WEIRTON - Mike Koon, West Virginia Northern Community College vice president of workforce and Weirton Campus dean, spoke to the Rotary Club of Weirton Wednesday about ongoing and upcoming projects at the community college.
Koon told those attending that the college has seen a slight dip in enrollment, with 680 students at the Weirton campus and 2,400 attending at all the campuses. He noted the college has seen an increase the prior two to three years, because of the poor economy, and the current reduction may either indicate an improving economy or a "leveling out."
Of programs available, Koon said the nursing program generates the most interest, because of the number of jobs available in the field. The college is offering new labs in respiratory care and lab technology, with the greatest enrollment increase in the respiratory care lab.
ROTARY GUEST — Mike Koon, West Virginia Northern Community College vice president of workforce and Weirton Campus dean and also a Weirton Rotary member, gave a presentation on WVNCC at Wednesday’s Rotary meeting. -- Summer Wallace-Minger
Koon said he anticipates a great deal of interest in the college's industrial maintenance program once people become aware of the number of jobs available in the field. Current students finished a summer internship at ArcelorMittal, where they were paid $19 an hour, and six area companies have inquired about the availability of new hires.
"They're looking to see if they can siphon them off as soon as we can produce them," said Koon.
The first group of students will finish training this summer.
There has been a decrease in early entrance students, those students who take college courses while still in high school, because more schools are offering advanced placement courses instead. Koon explained students taking early entrance courses paid a discount tuition rate and received college credit, but those taking AP courses must take and pass an exam to receive college credit, but don't pay tuition.
"From my viewpoint, it (an AP course) is a disadvantage," said Koon, noting a student must pass the test to receive credit and approximately 75 percent of those taking AP courses don't take the corresponding exam.
The college has been working on several Workforce Development initiatives, including a course to train licensed practical nurses to become registered nurses, noting several LPNs were laid off at Weirton Medical Center.
"We have a group of students who will get retrained and back to the job market," Koon said.
Koon added that, at the Wheeling and New Martinsville campuses, a program in oil and gas plant construction had been successful, with job skills that could transfer to constructing many facilities needed in oil and gas production.
"That program can be brought online (at Weirton) very quickly," he said.
The Weirton campus has been working with area oil and gas companies to develop a curriculum to train local residents in several aspects of the industry, including petro technology and mid-stream work.
"As soon as the jobs come online, we can roll out these programs," said Koon.
Weirton campus students are involved with several community service projects, and, for the fifth consecutive year, has earned a presidential award for service, an honor the college shares with West Virginia University among higher education facilities in the state, according to Koon.
"We're very proud of that," he said.
The college has been involved with "Military Mail Call," sending cards and letters to military members at Christmas for 20 years, and WVNCC leads the country in the volume of mail sent, having passed the University of Notre Dame four years ago and holding the top spot since then.
"The students work hard to put together mail so they can bolster the spirits of those who serve," said Koon.
A new program, "Middle College," will begin in January. Partnering with Hancock and Brooke county schools, the college will offer classes to at-risk students who don't thrive in a high school setting. Koon noted these students aren't discipline problems, but those who have high test scores, yet aren't fulfilling their potential, possibly because they have a learning style that isn't suited to the high school environment.
The program will be opened to about 30 students, recommended by area high schools and screened by the college. The students will be bused to the Weirton campus and will spend the day attending classes at the college. Three new teachers will be hired for the program, and classes will include 10 to 11 students.
"We've had great success with this (at other campuses)," said Koon. "Test scores are higher."
When asked about a commercial driver's license program, Koon said the college had looked into it, but the finances and liabilities, paired with the small number of students that could be admitted to such a program, made it unworkable. However, the John D. Rockefeller Career Center in New Cumberland may open such a program, and the college would work with the career center to direct potential students to the program.
One of the greatest difficulties faced by the college is the stigma attached to vocational-technical training, Koon said.
"Working in manufacturing is a good job, and it's a good-paying job," said Koon.
He noted that the manufacturing workforce in the area is aging, and soon, many job opportunities will be opening up as current manufacturing workers retire. He added that many students were those who had attended a four-year college and received a degree, but couldn't find a job in their field of study and were looking to obtain job skills.
"We call those people 'reverse transfers,'" he said.
However, the college's greatest strength is its ability to adapt to a changing job market and offer programs in areas where job training is needed and discard those programs and develop new ones when needs change.
"We can be pretty agile," he said.
Koon also is a Weirton Rotary member.
In other news, it was announced:
The district conference will take place this weekend, and Rotarian Ed Powell will take the Weirton Rotary banner down on Friday, and the club will participate in the "parade of banners." The club has donated a set of Fiesta dinnerware for the Chinese auction. Club members plan to attend Saturday and represent the Weirton club.
Kristin Bowman Cross, Weirton United Way executive director, will present the program Wednesday, and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., will speak at the Oct. 24 meeting.
The club will assist the Hancock County Salvation Army in its annual Thanksgiving turkey distribution.
(Wallace-Minger can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)