Starting with a training request from a local renewable energy company in 2005, Austin Community College (ACC) developed the first course in solar technology in Texas, with its Continuing Education department leading the charge. As ACC began studying market trends and cultivating champions inside and outside the college, the Continuing Education department used its unique "integrated course" approach to speed delivery of a green curriculum. By starting out with a non-credit program under flexible state regulations, the college produced the curriculum in months rather than years. In such a dynamic industry, this flexibility has been a significant benefit to both students and the state’s growing cluster of clean energy companies.
Aggressive regional goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, state ordinances requiring increased renewable energy production, and Austin's mandatory energy audits before sale of residential and commercial buildings all provided strong justification for building career training around renewable energy. Like many colleges, ACC grappled with how to work with industry to define necessary skill sets for the emerging alternative energy technologies.
With regulations driving real opportunities for workforce development, ACC's use of an integrated planning model gives students immediate access to certification programs to either expand employment options in existing trades or learn new skills. The model also uses credit-course content guidelines and faculty input from the get-go, easing the evolution into credit courses and degrees. By working this way, joint integrated coursework became the building block of what are now A.A.S degrees in electronics/advanced technologies – renewable energy and environmental science and technology.
The basic tenets and benefits derived from using this integrated approach to renewable energy curriculum development are the following:
Former ACC Executive Dean of Continuing Education Sandra Gaskin was closely involved in the joint development of the renewable energy programs. In describing the benefits of this creative and blended approach, she says "By maintaining integrated course sections through CE after the credit program is up and running, the college both meets the needs of (many) student populations and benefits from the additional income (both tuition and state reimbursement) from filled seats that would have gone empty without the additional CE students." She also notes the additional benefits of this model such as joint use of equipment, space, and faculty expertise that maximize resources and accrue real cost savings for the college and the programs.
Since its initial effort in 2005, ACC has developed non-credit certificates in several renewable energy technologies, emphasizing the solar option to take advantage of its rich solar resource: more than 300 days of sunshine a year. By September 2010, 805 students had completed 42 hours of training in the Solar Electric Systems: Entry Level Certificate and another 215 had completed other renewable energy certificates in solar thermal, energy auditing, and weatherization.
ACC is now a lead college in the "Texas I-35 Renewable Energy Corridor Consortium," composed of six colleges and universities (and other stakeholders) from Dallas down to San Antonio. As collaborators, these institutions intend to share curricula beyond continuing education courses, take advantage of research opportunities, and create an atmosphere of seamless engagement in meeting the needs of the renewable energy sector.
As a recognized national leader in renewable energy training, ACC was featured in the TIME magazine article, "Can Community Colleges Save the U.S. Economy?" published on July 20, 2009 (www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1909623,00.html).
To learn more about Austin Community College renewable energy programs and the integrated approach to course development, please follow the links and contact information below:
Associate Dean, Continuing Education
Executive Dean, Continuing Education