To keep up with the workforce demands of employers, colleges and universities in the Pocono Mountains Region work in concert with business to offer a number of specialized degree and certificate programs.
In Monroe County, Northampton Community College is planning for continued growth in the region's tourism industry by expanding its hospitality program, which includes degrees in culinary arts and hotel/restaurant management and courses in subjects such as casino dealer training and mixology. Likewise, Lackawanna College's Mary and Harry Kiesendahl School of Hospitality and Tourism offers associate of science degrees in culinary arts and hospitality management, and provides additional training and certification for culinary professionals in the area. The college boasts a 100 percent job placement rate for graduates. In addition to the culinary arts program, Lackawanna College Lake Region Center offers 12 associate degree programs in high-demand areas such as health care and office technology as well as courses toward the 30 degree programs offered at the main campus.
“We have a collaborative relationship with area businesses. We always communicate with our local business community to see what their needs are and how we can help them fulfill those needs,” says Kellyn Nolan, Lake Region center director for Lackawanna College. “We work with a number of committees and organizations, such as the Downtown Hawley Partnership and the Pike and Wayne Workforce Alliance, to make sure we're meeting the community's needs.”
Matt Connell, Dean of Northampton Community College's Monroe Campus says communication and collaboration between higher education institutions and the business community has contributed to the economic growth of the entire region. NCC's credit programs, especially those that support regional employer needs, are reviewed regularly.
"A significant part of this review process includes talking with local employers about skill sets and knowledge our graduates need and incorporating this into our credit programs,” Connell says. “NCC actively seeks internship and practicum opportunities for our credit students; this kind of 'real world' experience is necessary for our students' success as they seek job opportunities, and we invite local employers to participate in advisory committees, which work with our academic deans to ensure our curricula reflect what our employers are seeking in knowledge and skills.”
East Stroudsburg University plays a significant role in the economic vitality of the region as a proven catalyst for innovation. For example, ESU’s award-winning Business Accelerator program is creating a robust entrepreneurial culture that attracts a pipeline of inspiring entrepreneurs and early stage startup companies – including Marathon Studios, a web and mobile app development company started by an ESU computer science grad – to the Pocono Mountains Region. ESU offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in 60 academic programs, and graduates more than 1,400 students each year who transition into the workforce.
While supplying the region's businesses with highly skilled and trained workers, post-secondary institutions, such as the Monroe Career & Technical Institute, also work to improve residents' quality of life. Many of Monroe Career & Technical's students graduate with dual enrollment credits, articulation agreements and industry credentials. In 2015, the school began offering a dual enrollment engineering course for high school seniors as part of its STEM initiative, designed to encourage and place more graduates in the science, technology, engineering and math fields.
The need for career and technical education is greater than ever before, says Adam Lazarchak, director of the Monroe Career & Technical Institute. In 2014, he says, college graduates averaged $33,000 of tuition debt and often found themselves in jobs that didn’t require their degree.
"Many of those jobs offered an annual salary of $25,000 or less," he says. "When tuition rates go up and the average salary declines, our economy and community suffer. We are doing whatever we can to buck this trend through career focus and career planning. MCTI prepares students for high-priority occupations that are available in Monroe County, that meet or exceed a family sustaining wage, and require limited to zero college debt.”