At a Glance
- Shared expertise across all EECC campuses
- Reduced cost of delivery for non-credit training
- Displaced workers have low-cost access to classes
- Travel reduction lead to lower operating costs
- Delivered for-credit classes for less
Community College Helps Put Mississippi Residents Back to Work with Video Distance Learning
East Central Community College video distance learning project helps unemployed Mississippi residents gain the skills they need to re-enter the workforce.
When hard times came calling recently in the five Mississippi counties served by East Central Community College (ECCC), layoffs left thousands unemployed. But amid the hardship, administrators at ECCC’s Workforce Education and Development program saw an opportunity to use existing facilities and faculty to help retrain workers so they would qualify for the jobs that hadn’t been downsized. With limited teaching resources and a service area that spans 2,700 square miles, ECCC needed a cost-effective way to bring crucial training to out-of-work residents, no matter where they live.
Using a Community-Based Job Training Grant secured with help from the Polycom Grant Assistant Program, ECCC implemented a high-definition (HD) Polycom telepresence network that connects five learning centers and the college’s Decatur headquarters. Deployed and supported by BT Conferencing, the network allows students to engage face to face with instructors, often at little or no cost to unemployed workers. Classes once offered exclusively at one center now are available at any of them. With Polycom telepresence and Polycom UC Intelligent Core infrastructure solutions, ECCC extends specialized workforce education programs to workers in more locations, saves money on travel, and drives down the cost of bringing non-credit and for-credit classes to more students.
Signaling to Workers, ‘We Can Get Through This’
“When we fly the ECCC flag in a community, it’s a signal to people that together we can get through this,” says Roger Whitlock, dean of ECCC’s Workforce Education and Development Program. Few places need reassurance more. Whitlock says the five-county area lost some 3,000 jobs during the downturn. In February of 2010, unemployment in Winston County reached a staggering 22.1 percent. And though some employers were hiring, most laid-off workers discovered they didn’t have the training or credentials to qualify for advanced manufacturing jobs at sites like Raytheon or Weyerhaeuser, Pharmacy Technician and Certified Nursing Assistant positions in health care environments, and IT posts at businesses throughout the region. If their old jobs at lumber companies, resorts, and fabricators didn’t come back, what were workers to do?
“We needed to take more of the college to the community,” says Whitlock. “We needed to give those displaced workers the kind of training that would make them competitive again.”
ECCC’s workforce education program was already serving 18,000 residents a year when the downturn hit. It relied on five community outreach centers designed to serve a unique community of employers. For instance, the Integrated Technologies Training Center in Choctaw focuses on IT and industrial maintenance, while the Louisville Career Advancement Center and the Philadelphia Productivity Enhancement Lab emphasize truck driving, carpentry, plumbing, and other trades.
But with Polycom telepresence, ECCC could leverage that localized expertise across all five centers. Working with the Polycom Grant Assistance Program, ECCC applied for a Community-Based Job Training Grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. “We’re a small, rural college in an economically devastated area,” says Matthew Riley, grant coordinator at ECCC. “But with Polycom’s help, we managed to submit a splendidly composed proposal. If it weren’t for the Polycom Grant Assistance Program, people in this area would never have access to these very innovative services.”
‘Multiple Places at One Time’
ECCC won the $1.8 million, three-year grant in June of 2010. BT Conferencing, a Polycom partner, designed, implemented, and supports the network of Polycom HDX 8000 room telepresence systems. The network connects all five community outreach centers, including two teaching auditoriums that accommodate up to 120 people. “With Polycom, a trainer located in one center can reach students in any of the other centers via this real-time, live, interactive format,” Whitlock says. “Polycom allows EC offerings to be available in multiple places at one time, or recorded sessions to be viewed or reviewed at the learner’s convenience.”
By stretching resources and reducing travel, ECCC can bring certification and apprenticeship classes to more people at a lower cost. Some, such as M3 (modern, multi-skill manufacturing) certification classes, are frequently offered free to displaced workers. Telepresence also helps drive down the cost of traditional, for-credit classes—a significant benefit for ECCC, whose state funding is based on the number of credit hours delivered each year.
Engaging with Businesses
Many centers also make their telepresence systems available to local businesses, with positive results. One Iowa manufacturer cited those capabilities in its decision to open a new plant in Philadelphia, home of the Neshoba Business Enterprise Center, an ECCC affiliate.
ECCC’s network is served by a Polycom UC Intelligent Core platform available to all of the state’s community colleges. This allows colleges to use resources beyond their own campuses. Here, says Whitlock, Polycom’s support for open standards is vital: “With its standards-based approach, Polycom opens doors that would have been closed with other systems.”
In its first year, the network served roughly 300 students, though Whitlock expects participation to rise dramatically. “This is about more than just instruction,” says Whitlock. “We’re helping to rebuild and develop communities. We’re preparing them to succeed.”
To find out more, visit us at www.polycom.com or speak with a Polycom Account Representative.