Mesa Community College's program to train high-tech workers will be showcased when President Bush attends a town hall discussion today at the college.
Bush will hold what the White House dubs a “conversation on job training and the economy” at about 3:50 p.m. at the college's main campus, 1833 W. Southern Ave. His trip to Arizona is part of a three-state tour, which also includes Ohio and New Mexico, that he launched after delivering his State of the Union address Tuesday. Bush will spend the night in Phoenix and leave for New Mexico in the morning.
Improving job training and developing a better-educated work force were central themes of the president's speech, in which he laid out to Congress his priorities for the coming year.
The program at MCC has been among the leaders in the nation in training students with skills matched to industry demands, said Pinny Sheoran, director of the Business and Industry Institute at the college. The institute began in 1987, and since 1996 has made information technology its primary focus, Sheoran said.
During his stop in Mesa, Bush will participate in a panel discussion on retraining and educational programs for rapidly growing technology industries, Sheoran said. The panel will include three students from the business and industry program at the college, she said.
The crux of the program is teaching a curriculum developed by working closely with industries that will eventually hire students who take courses at the college, whether to hone their technology skills or to obtain an associate's degree, she said. Having future employers help design the curriculum has ensured MCC graduates have the skills necessary to meet the demands of industry, she said.
There are, on average, about 2,000 students enrolled in the information technology curriculum at the college, she said.
“We're not just building for low-end jobs,” Sheoran said. “We are building for very high-skilled jobs.”
Larry Christiansen, president of MCC, said the college also is working with the U.S. Department of Labor to develop uniform standards for information technology course work, which will be more rigid than the industry-based standards in place today.
The program at MCC is particularly relevant to the president's job training agenda, Christiansen said. Community colleges are ideal for workers seeking to gain the skills they need to find high-paying jobs in technical industries, he said.
“It's an attention-getter for the program,” Christiansen said of the president's visit. “It's a reaffirmation of work-force development within all Maricopa (Community) colleges. It's a reaffirmation of this being an example of students doing good things, faculty doing good things and program leaders doing good things.”
Bush said during his speech Tuesday that he will seek increased federal support for community colleges to train Americans for skilled jobs in which there is strong growth.
“I do so so they can train workers for industries that are creating the most new jobs,” Bush said after listing a series of education initiatives he backs.
About 250 people are expected to attend the event, which requires advance tickets for admission. Most of the tickets were distributed to students and faculty at the college, Christiansen said.
The college's business and industry institute is in downtown Mesa. Christiansen said there are tentative plans to expand the downtown facility, using the information technology program as a primary focus. Those plans will hinge in part on the results of a $950 million bond issue voters likely will decide on this year, he said. Bush's trip to Mesa, his only public appearance in the Valley today, comes less than a week after Vice President Dick Cheney spoke to about 450 veterans at Mesa’s Falcon Field Municipal Airport. It also comes less than two weeks before Arizona Democrats vote on which candidate their party should put up against Bush in the 2004 general election.
Paul Hegarty, executive director of the Arizona Democratic Party, said the attention being paid to Arizona by the Bush administration shows the state is up for grabs.
“It definitely tells us that the Bush administration is afraid of Arizona, that Arizona is now truly a swing state,” Hegarty said. “The Republicans can no longer take for granted that they'll automatically win this state.”