Florida Keys Community College (FKCC) is one of the most recent educational institutions to join the MATE Center partnership. Located in Key West, Florida, this 35-year-old college currently offers three A.S. degree programs in marine technology: Diving Business and Technology; Marine Environmental Technology; and Marine Engineering, Management, and Seamanship.
These programs are already fairly integrated, with thirty common course credits, but the school is working to increase that integration. “The MATE Center has been instrumental in initiating our integration of the three programs,” says Bob Smith, who is Program Director for the Diving Business and Technology program and Special Projects Officer for Workforce Development at FKCC. “Before MATE, we talked to each other, but we all had our own people and didn’t work together formally,” he explains.
"This 35-year-old college currently offers three A.S. degree programs in marine technology: Diving Business and Technology; Marine Environmental Technology; and Marine Engineering, Management, and Seamanship"
A Unique Institution
FKCC is a unique institution in many ways. The most obvious is its service area, which is 120 miles long and just four miles wide. The student population is dichotomized, with a large group just out of high school and another large number of retirees – both older individuals and younger, military retirees. While these student demographics aren’t necessarily unique, where the student population comes from is: because of the nature of the courses offered, FKCC attracts college-age students from outside the immediate area and even outside the state. Likewise, retirees often come because of the area and then look to the community college for a career change or to turn an avocation into an occupation.
The school also has some unique challenges. “As you can imagine, such a long and narrow service area makes for difficult communications sometimes,” says Smith. As a balance to that, however, the casual culture of the Florida Keys and the region’s plethora of marine-related businesses has helped the college establish good relations with industry. “In the past, we’ve hired a lot of faculty, and some administrators, from industry, so the school tends to have excellent connections with employers,” he explains.
“As the marine technology industry grows and we work on integrating our programs, we are looking to establish a more systematic manner of communicating,” Smith says. An example of this effort is a workshop, scheduled for late March, in which regional industry representatives will come together to help FKCC in the process of integrating its three marine technology programs. Smith and his colleagues have sent out a survey, based on the MATE Center’s industry survey, to gather information on regional industry’s needs for skilled workers before the workshop. “We will talk about what we learn from the survey and what we’ve learned from twenty years of teaching, but mostly we’ll be there to listen,” Smith says. “We want to take advantage of the opportunity to learn as much as we can from industry.”
Programs that Constantly Evolve
There are distinctive aspects to FKCC’s educational efforts, too. One example is a dual enrollment course the college has established with a local high school. “We’ve put together a 3-credit course in marine science, taught at the high school, for which the students get both high school credit and three college credits,” Smith explains. The course, called Science of Underwater Performance, involves SCUBA diving and features a challenging curriculum, including physics, physiology, and marine environmental science. “The students learn to dive while taking an accredited science course; we think it’s an exciting addition to our curriculum,” says Smith. Other MATE partners may have heard about this course when Bob Smith introduced it at the MATE Center’s 1999 summer institute.
FKCC is also working under a unique reimbursement policy, established recently by the state of Florida, which focuses on the concept of ‘Occupational Completion Points’ (OCPs). “Whereas in the past our reimbursement from the state was based exclusively on enrollment, now the state also looks at how many students complete their education and how many get placed in jobs,” Smith explains. At first, educators were concerned by this development, because many students get part way through their studies and then get hired. This doesn’t mean that the students never finish their study programs; just that it often takes longer.
"As the marine technology industry grows and we work on integrating our programs"
According to Smith, the OCP concept compensates for this. “The state said, ‘if someone completes only part of a program, but it’s demonstrably enough to get that individual a job, that stage of the program will qualify as an OCP and we’ll give you money for that’,” he explains. Consequently, to address this state policy, all FKCC vocational education programs are now defined by several OCPs.
For example, a student with a degree in marine environmental technology could qualify for a job as a curator, whereas with only thirty-one credits, or about half-way through the degree, she could qualify as an assistant curator (a junior level position). In this second case, FKCC gets paid for an OCP as a curator.
FKCC offers courses to address the proliferation of marine technology into other areas, also. For example, it offers a training/certification program for law enforcement officers called Underwater Police Science and Technology. Likewise, it offers SCUBA Rescue and Emergency Medicine for emergency services personnel.
“The future is bright for our students because the field of marine technology is growing so fast,” says Smith. “Today you’re not just a technician, you’re a very badly needed technician!”
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