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Technical colleges looking to expand

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Jun 8, 2021

There was a great deal of excitement shared with the school board Monday afternoon as the director of the Cape Coral Technical College shared his vision.

The Cape Coral Technical College, which sits on 14 acres of donated land, opened in 1993 with programs evolving as the regional demand shifted.

“We utilize 50 to 60 percent of the land that we own,” Cape Coral Technical College Director Charlie Pease said.

Presently there are 16 programs offered in the areas of healthcare, technology, hospitality, business and animal care.

“We are the only college in the city of Cape Coral. There is a huge opportunity to make it a proper college,” he said.

Three quarters of the students travel to the technical college from Cape Coral and North Fort Myers, with the remaining coming from the school district’s South and East Zone, as well as other counties looking for specific programs. In fiscal year 2021, 71.2 percent of students came from the West Zone and 14.8 percent came from the East Zone.

Pease became the director of the college in November 2019 with a main mission to get Cape Coral Technical College on the map with branding and marketing. One of the ways he was able to do that was through a partnership with Future Makers to fund a video.

Pease has also engaged with the operations and academic services department to talk about what the master plan might be for Cape Coral Technical College. That plan includes two phases — with the first adding an auto and marine service academy with the hope to break ground as early as next summer.

“Hopefully within three years (we will) have those launched,” Pease said. “My dream is to open in August 2023, or January 2024 for phase one.”

He said they have not engaged with architects yet for the first phase. The vision is to have an auto service academy visible to the street because they want it to service the public.

The goal is to have a single point of entry door with five bays, one lift station and customer service area in a building approximately 6,000 square feet.

“It’s really important that we service the public, they are able to come in and (we) make a profit,” Pease said, adding that it gives students “hands-on experience of working with the community with jobs they are going to do.”

In four to six years, he hopes to house eight new programs, such as welding, construction design and HVAC in a building that will have flexible space of classrooms and lab areas. This second phase would have an additional 22,000-square-foot building with the hope of breaking ground in four to five years from now.

In seven to 10 years, “near and dear to my heart,” Pease said, is he envisions Cape Coral Technical College becoming a proper college with the ability to offer associate degrees in nursing and dental hygiene.

“We are pushing very hard to offer a bridge program to offer an associates degree in nursing,” he said.

Fort Myers Technical College

The exciting momentum continued as Fort Myers Technical College Director John Roszell gave an update about the college that opened in 1967 on 30 acres. The college, which began with seven programs, is currently undergoing a renovation.

They are currently in the design phase. The hope is to break ground between December and February with completion taking place by June 2023. During the renovation students will not be affected, nor instruction, as they will use different buildings.

“The renovation is increasing capacity and revenue by 20 percent that we can invest into the school and hopefully add additional programs,” Roszell said.

There are now 24 programs offered within five focus areas of healthcare, manufacturing, transportation, construction, hospitality and human services. He said within every one of those focus areas they have at least 90 percent of enrollment in the fall with the anticipation that some will be on a wait list.

A big percentage of students who attend the college come from the East Zone (38.4 percent), followed by the South Zone (27.55 percent) and then the West Zone (22.98 percent).

Operational Planning & Projects Executive Director Kathie Ebaugh said they have identified property to use for multiple resources in the East Zone.

“It’s a large site that is large enough to put more than one educational facility on the site,” she said. “We need to do it with partnerships and grants . . . recognizing that in order for us to provide the services it is not something we are able to do by ourselves. These projects are also being looked at with the same resources for K-12 programing. There are different alternatives and options to meeting all the needs we have at K-12 and Tech Colleges.”

Board member Gwyn Gittens asked to champion the project.

“I have been saying this forever and a day. From 2017 to 2021 the East Zone has been the largest draw, as well as Charlotte County, which is eastern area as well. I have never figured out why we have not looked at doing something sooner in the East Zone,” she said. “I would like to champion this project since the majority is in the district I live and represent. We have to do something and do it now. I am very adamant about our priorities and needs.”

Ebaugh said at the next briefing meeting, June 22, business services will bring different alternatives for the expansion of Fort Myers Technical College to the east zone.

“We have more demand than we have resources,” she said. “There are some major decisions that we have to make.”

The vision for Fort Myers Technical College is to expand six current programs with an added diesel mechanics program. In four to six years, Roszell said they want to add additional skilled trades such as solar, drafting and aircraft maintenance.

In seven to 10 years, he, too, wants to offer associates degrees in such areas as nursing and drafting.

“I feel we could offer that at a much lower rate than surrounding colleges,” he said.

SWFL Public Service Academy

A glimpse into the SWFL Public Service Academy was also included in the presentation by Technical Colleges Senior Director Todd Everly. He said it opened in 1979 and was attached to Fort Myers Technical College with two modular buildings, one fixed classroom and two programs – basic corrections and basic law enforcement.

A renovation occurred in 2001 to the Fort Myers Technical College and a fire service program academy was added. In 2011 the SWFL Public Service Academy moved to Michigan Montessori School where they remain today.

The academy is the only FDLE Certified Basic Recruit Law Enforcement Academy servicing Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades Counties; the only full time Basic Recruit Fire Service and EMT Academy in Southwest Florida and the only full-service Public Service Academy in the state of Florida.

“As long as growth continues in Southwest Florida, we will have to produce public safety in Southwest Florida. We are going to have to produce these first responders for our communities,” he said.

For fiscal year 2021, they licensed and graduated 382 first responders for Southwest Florida.

“The East Zone is where the majority of our students are coming by percentage,” he said.

Ebaugh said they have been working with the tech teams to understand the needs of today and the future and how it fits into the five and 10 year plans to achieve those goals.

She said the Fort Myers Technical College renovation is budgeted and underway and they are working with Cape Coral Technical College to get the auto and marine tech programs expansion.

Career Technical Education program

There was also an update given about the Career Technical Education program.

Adult & Career Education Director Rita Davis discussed CTE in fifth through 12th grade with a goal of increasing the number of those courses.

The fiscal year 2021 target of career themed courses was 39,600 course enrollments. As of April 30, 2021 the total enrollment is 32,275. The decrease Davis said had to do with COVID, as students were not able to access all CTE courses.

Davis said it was greatly impacted in 2019-2020 because their testing season would have begun during lockdown. She said they had a tremendous challenge to get students certified because only a few were able to be done remotely.

What they were able to control was connecting students with the workforce, so they could gain job ready skills until they are able to get their certification. They worked with the Southwest Florida Enterprise Center with the Train to Gain program, giving students first-hand experience.

Davis said four of seven students were hired full-time and three are working with companies to help gain full time employment as well.

There was also a target of 52 percent of students graduating with at least one industry certification for fiscal year 2021. As of quarter three, that number was 35 percent of students.

Davis said a long-standing goal is to have every student graduate with one industry certification with the target increasing every year. She said a lot of students were not able to test due to the lockdown and quarantine, which is why that number decreased.

The presentation also highlighted the fiscal year 2021 target of 53 business and community partners involved in CTE programs and initiatives. As of May 31, 2021 the district had 185 partners.

Davis said they have a career advisory board at each one of the high schools, as well as a district level career advisory board that has helped in building those partnerships.

With the upcoming school year the district came up with a middle school CTE plan to really get students excited and to help guide their decisions in choosing career academies in high school, Davis told the board. Some of those courses include computer apps, introduction to marketing, sales and service, digital discoveries and coding fundamentals.