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FORT LUPTON — Aims Community College’s South Campus in Fort Lupton will be celebrating its 30th anniversary in October. And Aug. 14 will be the one-year anniversary of the ribbon cutting on the campus’ Platte Building, a sleek and modern structure adorning the eastern half of the tidy campus.
But even with those milestone moments just around the corner, some administration staff got together July 8 and threw a little party because, well, just because.
“We felt like it would be good to take some time and celebrate our success,” said Brenda Rask, dean of Aims’ Fort Lupton campus.
What Rask and her staff were celebrating is the fact that enrollment numbers at the Fort Lupton Campus are up, and in a big way.
Rask, as well as Jeff Reynolds, Dean of Instruction at Aims’ Greeley Campus, estimated enrollment to be up between 70 and 80 percent this summer, with a similar spike expected in the fall.
Reynolds called the enrollment increase in Fort Lupton a “tremendous boost” that he believes is at least partially attributed to an improved economy creating rising workforce needs.
But Reynolds said he thinks it also has to do with last year’s physical expansion, as well as the new programs and job training the Platte Building and it amenities — more than $1 million in technical training equipment — have afforded the next generation of students.
“We think (the increase in enrollment) is largely attributable to these new programs we started,” he said. “We’ve definitely gotten a lot of interest from the community.”
Rask said community is key, of course, to a community college, and said Aims at Fort Lupton can best serve that community by understanding its workforce needs and identifying the interests of students before they begin looking into higher education and training.
to the community
According to Rask and others, both the $10-million Platte Building expansion and the programs that followed were a culmination of ongoing efforts by, among others, college administration, the state’s Department of Labor, the Colorado Community College System, and various industry stakeholders, particularly those looking for qualified candidates in the most employee-hungry industries.
“You know, it all kind of happened at the same time,” she said, adding that all programs and expansion at Aims are always based largely on community feedback and workforce needs.
“We’re constantly watching to see what’s going on in the economy and what the needs are in terms of employment regionally, statewide and nationally,” Rask added. “Though, since we are a district college, our main priority is to first serve the needs of the community.”
Regionally, the workforce needs are clear and evident: Weld County remains one of the top producing counties in the nation in terms of both oil and gas development and, of course, agriculture, the latter of which is as strong as it has ever been in northern Colorado and beyond, according to Rask.
“A lot of the state’s economic foundation still comes from agriculture,” she said. “Just watch the trucks in the morning and afternoon and you can kind of see what the base of industry is in the area.”
The beauty of the Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs at Aims, said Rask, is that much of the training available through the Platte labs — including the new welding program — applies equally to both industries.
Agriculture and engineering technology instructor, Weston McCary, agreed.
“We have a full welding lab that is shared between oil and gas and agriculture,” McCary said. “There’s a ton of welding — pipe welding and pipefitting — that goes on with oil and gas. But at the same time, (the agriculture industry) uses the same thing, and there’s a lot of crossover, which is cool.”
Lots of options
Rask pointed out that Aims is no one-trick pony in terms of technical education. Rather, she said they remain strongly committed to other industries and staple CTE training programs that have long been a part of the Aims curriculum, including nursing and aviation. College-wide, Rask said Aims has more than 160 certificate and degree programs that “operate as approved by the state,” including the recently added carpentry program.
And as workforce needs evolve, Rask said Aims to will continue to adapt. Future training considerations, she said, could include hospitality and a “fermentation program” for those individuals interested in joining the increasingly popular craft beer brewing industry.
However those workforce needs evolve, Rask said Aims’ top priority remains training students in the most gainful and rewarding industries.
“We do always have ideas moving forward, but the first thing we look at are those high-skilled, high-wage, high-demand occupations,” she said, adding that many of the entry-level jobs afforded by Aims CTE training could earn students upward of $60,000 a year.
Rask said Aims’ board of trustees — the college is one of only two in the state’s 15-school system that have their own individual board — also weighs community input when making decisions on new curriculum and programming.
“We continually listen to what community members say because a lot of people will bring different ideas to us,” she said. “And we do listen to our business and industry partners, as well as all our other partners. We also have a very strong partnership with employment services of Weld County … and that always helps bring ideas to the forefront.”
Rask added that every one of Aims’ more than 160 CTE programs has an advisory committee that meets at least twice a year to “provide information on and review curriculum” in order to provide valuable, industry-centric information that can be used to further develop future curriculum and training.
“These programs are always evolving,” she said.
Ahead of the curve
In a letter sent to various regional media outlets last month, Aims College President Marilynn “Marsi” Liddell called Weld County “one of the fastest growing regions in the state” and said the county is “well positioned to thrive in the 21st century economy.”
That is, so long as higher learning institutions do their job and work with secondary education leaders in preparation, she added.
“It is the responsibility of the state’s education system to develop well-qualified, skilled workforce with the education and credentials required to meet business and industry demand,” Liddell wrote. “The education pipeline from preschool through college must be smooth and aligned if we are going to meet our 21st century workforce needs.”
Liddell’s letter was specifically in support of Core Knowledge teaching, which she said is a great benefit in a state where four out of 10 first-year college students require some level of remediation, most commonly in math and sciences.
However, for those students ahead of the curve rather than behind it, Rask said there are multiple scholarship and enrollment programs designed to provide a head start on secondary education, such as articulated credit, concurrent enrollment and dual enrollment — programs where students earn college credits during high school or take college classes that satisfy high school curriculum requirements.
“The students can come from high school and earn their college English or math credits here,” Rask said.
And since the 2007-08 academic school year, Rask said Aims has had a partnership with Weld Re-8 called Career Academy, which allows high school students to earn CTE and vocational training credits in fields like automobile collision repair, automotive service technology, nurse aide, med prep, graphics, communication media, agriculture, oil and gas, welding and carpentry — and all before they even receive a high school diploma. Aims now partners with eight school districts in Weld and Larimer counties to offer Career Academy scholarships, Rask said.
“And we continue to greatly expand (those programs and collaborations),” she added.
Ultimately, Rask said the collaborative efforts of Aims and industry backers who help support and fund new programs have increased awareness and made some people in the community look at Fort Lupton’s only institution of higher learning as more than just a “community college.”
“When I first moved into this community 16 years ago I had three small children going to Fort Lupton schools but had no idea this college was here,” she said. “But since that time, I believe we’ve certainly broadened our notoriety in the community and surrounding areas.
“And I think it’s really has helped bring the community closer,” she added.