Lehigh Valley Colleges and Universities Meet Workforce Demands of High-Growth Industries
Discover how higher ed institutions are equipping graduates with the skills necessary to succeed in high-demand fields.
With more than 50,000 students enrolled in a dozen colleges, universities, career and technical centers throughout the Lehigh Valley, a highly skilled, readily available workforce has become the proverbial feather in the region's economic development cap. Home to some of nation's oldest higher-education institutions – including Lehigh University, Lafayette College, Muhlenberg College and Moravian College – the Lehigh Valley is known for its culture of education and expertise, not only in the arts and sciences, but also across its highest demand fields. Colleges and universities in the area continue to add to the rich pool of talent with new degrees and programs designed to prepare students for top jobs in the region. The Wescoe School of Business at Muhlenberg College in Allentown recently debuted a supply chain management concentration within its business administration curriculum for students entering the region's fast-growing manufacturing and logistics industries. Moravian College in Bethlehem has added a public health major and minor to meet the growing demand for nurses and other health-care professionals. The program introduces students to such concepts as advocacy, community dynamics, critical thinking, cultural context, ethical decision-making, networking, organizational dynamics, research methods and policy development. The college also developed a health sciences major to prepare students for graduate and professional study in allied health professions. Its nursing department also expanded to offer a traditional four-year pre-licensure baccalaureate degree, a baccalaureate degree for registered nurses and a master’s program in nursing for clinical nurse leaders, nurse administrators, nurse educators and nurse practitioners. Currently, the college is partnering with St. Luke's University Health Network to develop a bachelor's and master's athletic training program for its new Center for Sports Medicine. “Our alumni are integral to the workforce and are positioned to affect future progress, providing highly educated, technically skilled workers,” said Amy Saul, associate dean of students and director of career development for Moravian College. “Our graduates are tops in their fields of medicine, law, education, finance and business and positively affect the Lehigh Valley, the region, the country and the world.” Skilled Players Northampton Community College plays an integral role in the region’s workforce development with programs in areas such as hospitality, public safety and leadership development offered through continuing education. While Lehigh Carbon Community College offers 70 associate degrees, 22 certificate programs and multiple noncredit programs, more than 35 percent of students enrolled in credit programs participate in what the college describes as career programs, which prepare students to go directly into jobs in fields such as HVAC, advanced manufacturing, construction and nursing. Additionally, the college partners with local school districts, career and technical institutes to build a pipeline of skilled workers through initiatives such as dual enrollment and high-school-to-college bridge programs. “We maintain close contact with government, city groups and civic organizations as well as businesses to ensure that programs in both credit and noncredit areas respond to current and emerging needs,” said Linda Baker, executive director of college relations at Lehigh Carbon Community College. “It is important that programs follow business and industry trends, which are then incorporated into program revisions or new program development, affording students a clear career pathway.” Pathways to Success Students at Lafayette College in Easton are encouraged to pursue real-world experience through internships and externships in order to ”clarify their goals, interests, values and skills.” “By supporting students and identifying their strengths, we can guide them through a career exploration process which allows them to make good decisions about the career direction they wish to pursue,” said Nanette Cooley, interim director and employer relations manager for the college's career services department. “Experiential learning opportunities position students well for making good decisions about career choices. Once students identify their passions and career goals, they often make significant contributions and add value to organizations of interest.” Ninety-seven percent of Lehigh University graduates find career-related jobs within six months of graduation – a figure that bodes well both for the university and the region's economy – with starting salaries that average more than $50,000. “We are producing individuals with bachelor's, master's, Ph.Ds,” said Henry Odi, vice provost for academic diversity at Lehigh University. “And we're collaborating with industry leaders who recruit those folks to make sure the jobs will be available for graduates to stay in the region.”