In today’s difficult job market, community college students looking to position themselves for career security and success have an exciting new set of options to consider: programs leading to associate’s degrees or certificates in sustainable energy technologies.
A Growing Industry
Just a few years ago, sustainable energy was more of a dream than a reality. Today, sustainable energy is emerging as an industry in its own right – one that demands trained, competent workers. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (President Obama’s economic stimulus package) provides money for “solar farms, wind turbines, electrical grid updates, mass transit, and the weatherizing and retrofitting of buildings,” according to Business Week. By the estimates of some environmental groups, this spending is expected to produce 1 million to 1.5 million new jobs.
Reporting on the then-emerging trend in 2008, the New York Times articulated that national starting salaries for sustainable energy workers range from $35,000 to $45,000 for graduates of two-year degree programs.
Fortunately for college students who are attracted to the growth potential and solid starting salaries in this industry, community colleges are beginning to offer more programs in two-year degrees or certificates for prospective sustainable energy industry workers.
This video reports on Renewable Energy Program at Hutchison Community College.
Sustainable Energy Degree and Certificate Programs
Across the country, community colleges are offering niche programs that can jumpstart your career in sustainable energy.
At Massachusetts’s Greenfield Community College, students can earn an Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts with a concentration in Renewable Energy/Energy Efficiency. Students are required to take a course called “Introduction to Sustainable Energy,” as well as a course called “Residential Energy Efficiency and Energy Auditing.” They also must take a total of 12 units of science electives, which they can choose from a list of courses that includes “Solar Thermal Systems,” “Fundamentals of Wind Energy,” and “Extreme Insulation Retrofits.” Students can even sign up for an “Internship in Renewable Energy” and receive course credit for their fieldwork.
Greenfield Community College also offers several course sequences that prepare students to sit for industry exams, such as the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) Photovoltaic Basic Knowledge exam.
This video offers an overview of the Energy and Sustainability program at Bunker Hill Community College.
At Pennsylvania’s Luzerne County Community College, students can enroll in a Sustainable Energy Technology Certificate Program. As the Pennsylvania Times-Leader reports, the program, which can be completed in one year, provides students with a foundation in college math and science, but also provides students with a basic understanding of technologies used in the sustainable energy industry.
Students receive specific training in programmable logic controllers and their applications in wind, solar, clean-coal, and biomass energy technologies. The college also helps students find internships in Pennsylvania’s growing sustainable energy industry.
Michigan’s Lansing Community College offers students the opportunity to earn an Associate’s Degree in Alternative Energy Technology. At Lansing Community College, students work with hybrid vehicles, learn alternative methods for heating and cooling residences and businesses, and study “wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass/gas energy production systems.”
In the fall of 2009, nine colleges in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system began offering a two-year program through which students can earn an associate’s degree in Innovative Energy.
Minnesota State University’s Moorhead quoted University Chancellor James H. McCormick, who said that these new programs will help to fill a “critical need” in Minnesota’s energy industries. Renewable energy producers, said McCormick, are “struggling to find workers with appropriate skills.” Students who complete a certificate or degree program in sustainable energy will possess a highly desirable skill set.
In addition to being able to earn an associate’s degree, students at the participating Minnesota colleges and universities can earn a 16-credit certificate in one of four energy-industry specialties: ethanol production, biodiesel production, wind turbine maintenance, and solar energy assessment
The development of the Minnesota program was funded mostly with a $1 million High Growth Job Training Initiative grant from the U. S. Department of Labor.
Morrisville State University in New York recently used a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to create a Renewable Energy Training Center and a new associate’s degree in renewable energy technology, according to New York’s Oneida Daily Dispatch.
A Rapidly Changing Industry
While the sustainable energy industries will continue to grow over the coming years, the field is still young, and experts are not yet definitive on which energies will emerge as industry leaders.
Gail O’Kane, the Minnesota college and university system’s director for industry-education partnerships, believes that growth is inevitable in such a young industry. O’Kane asserts that a two-year degree in energy technology will allow students to acquire a “core set of skills” so that they can be “well-positioned to complete new training quickly as new energy technologies emerge.”
Today’s community college students are on the cusp of a new industry that will certainly demand niche skills and experiences. Taking advantage of community colleges’ alternative energies positions candidates well for job security and future growth.
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