Mission Critical Operations Degree Program Set to Launch This Fall

The grant money is in place, the curriculum is being developed, and members of the Carolinas 7X24 Exchange are waiting for new graduates of the mission critical program to emerge with the training needed in this field. We talked with Jonathan Davis, project manager of information technology and computer information technology department chair at Cleveland Community College, to get an update on the program.


Q: What stage is the mission critical program in now?

JD: We are about a year and a half into our three-year implementation period. We are a United States Department of Labor TAACCCT grant recipient. The amount was $23.2 million to three community colleges in North Carolina (Wake Technical College, Cleveland Community College, and Nash Community College), Moultrie Technical College in Georgia, and UNC Charlotte. Those are our partner schools. Together we make up the National Consortium for Mission Critical Operations. Them curriculum standards have been approved at the state level. The curriculum title is Mission Critical Operations, and it will be a two-year associate of applied science degree. Cleveland Community College has approved their program of study for the new degree and will begin training students this fall semester, beginning in August. Wake Technical Community College and Nash Community College plan to begin their MCO program in the spring of 2016. Cleveland Community College plans to offer as much of the program online as possible. Once the program is underway, the grant partners will seek to make agreements with other community colleges to offer the MCO program in partnership, so that students all across North Carolina have the same opportunity, including taking seated classes at their local colleges. More details on this will be provided in 2016.


Q: How long before the first graduations?

JD: It is very possible that the first students completing this program may graduate in May of 2016. Students are taking courses now to transfer into this program. We have a number of students who are in what we call participant programs now. Although we aren’t yet enrolling students in the MCO program until fall, we have participant programs that are in the areas of information technology, HVAC, plumbing, electrical, mechanical. So we’re targeting those students by embedding mission critical content into their courses so they have an awareness of what mission critical is.


Q: How would you describe the prospects for mission critical degree holders?

JD: We think the prospect for these students is bright. Skills these students possess are cross-sector skills. While they may have a degree in mission critical operations, they can work in hospitals, laboratories, power facilities, banks. Just about any facility can benefit from a mission critical operator. Not all facilities are 24-hours-a-day seven-days-a-week facilities, but they want to be. Having a person on staff who understands up time and how system availability impacts the company’s bottom line—that’s important to many companies, not just data centers. Already some of our students have landed jobs with data centers in the area. And a student who achieves a diploma in the program after one year may gain employment or may decide to continue getting the rest of the degree on the job. It is also important to mention that Cleveland Community College is planning on awarding credit for experience in the field. There may be operators already out there seeking to formalize their experience with a degree to move up within the company. Their experience may be worth college credit that could take a big bite out of the required courses and put them that much closer to a degree.


Q: How can Carolinas 7X24 Exchange help?
JD: Even with the grant, funds for marketing the program are not necessarily there. 7X24
Exchange has helped in the past to provide funds for this. Continued support on that front, especially in marketing, is definitely needed. We also need a commitment of subject matter experts to be involved in the process of developing materials, providing input on course content, serving on item writing workshops for our exams, even just sitting on an advisory committee that meets once or twice a year. That committee will make recommendations on program improvement, which is a big part of what we are supposed to do with the grant. The money isn’t just to develop a program, but to develop a way to continuously improve the program and make sure we have employer partners involved in the process and that student outcomes—especially employment outcomes—are being met. With a Department of Labor grant it’s always about employability and preparing students for jobs.

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