College of DuPage starts fall term with focus on building a strong workforce

Last year, the College of DuPage campus felt like a ghost town when compared to the activity and excitement that usually accompanies the beginning of the fall term.

That feeling will be different on Monday, Aug. 23, when the college starts its fall term. Nearly 50 percent of our courses will be offered in person or in a hybrid format that combines in-person and remote learning, which means more students will be coming to campus.

To maintain the safety of the college community and in observance of current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, all COD employees and students will be required to wear face masks while on campus.

Our decisions for fall had to be made back in the late winter in order for registration to begin on time in the spring. However, we made adjustments based upon the latest regulations and guidelines to accommodate more classes in person.

While we will always keep in mind the health and safety of everyone involved, we are excited about seeing our students in Glen Ellyn and at our centers in Addison, Carol Stream, Naperville and Westmont.

This is a critical time for education and the workforce. In a recent New York Times story, it is estimated that about 2.5 million Americans have retired in the 15 months since the pandemic started, about twice the number from 2019.

In addition, as workplaces begin to return to their pre-pandemic levels of operation, several business sectors are seeing skyrocketing employment needs.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the manufacturing industry experienced more than one million layoffs during the initial months of the pandemic. As of this past spring, hiring has increased 112% from February 2020 as manufacturers seek to fill 851,000 positions.

The hospitality industry, as expected, is also experiencing a shortage. Nearly 1.6 million openings need to be filled as people begin to travel and dine out more often.

Other industries seeing increases in job openings include finance, health services, business and construction, just to name a few.

Employers are almost desperate in their search for skilled labor. This is where College of DuPage excels.

We have the certificate and degree programs that can provide students with the knowledge and training they need to start their careers.

Our manufacturing program, for example, features large labs with the latest in equipment and technology, providing the ideal environment for hands-on training.

I have mentioned Project Hire-Ed before, which the college launched in 2019, but it is worth highlighting again.

This partnership between COD and local companies is building a strong workforce. Enrolled students benefit from full-time employment while developing job skills through college courses and work-based learning.

Project Hire-Ed recently celebrated its first graduates, who expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to work as they gained a college credential and on-the-job training.

While employers search for skilled workers, the irony is that college enrollment during the pandemic has fallen.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, higher education spring enrollment for 2021 declined 3.5% - or 603,000 students - from the previous year, marking the largest year-over-year change since the center started publishing data in 2011.

Multiple reasons have contributed to this decline, but my fear is that students who delayed college or took time off will stay away, unable to capitalize on the positive economic and career impacts that a college education can make on their lives.

Students instead should turn to College of DuPage and take advantage of our strong academics, top-notch facilities and affordable tuition rate.

Several of our programs recently were ranked nationally among the best offered at community colleges. For example, KaTom Restaurant Supply Inc.'s annual study has ranked the college's Culinary Arts program among the top 20 in the U.S. The company based its rankings on the U.S. Department of Education's College Scorecard database.

Best Health Degrees, the free online source for information on health care degrees and careers, ranked our physical education, fitness and sport studies program as the third best Exercise Science and Kinesiology associate degree program in the U.S. for 2021.

Nursing School Hub named COD's Associate Degree in Nursing program as one of the Top 25 most affordable ADN programs in the nation.

The pandemic has created situations that no one could have predicted. We are only beginning to understand the long-term impact it will have on the workforce and education.

But the need for highly skilled employees will never go away, and College of DuPage is equipped to provide the necessary training that will help students attain their career goals.

• Brian Caputo is the president of the College of DuPage.

Brian Caputo
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.