When Florida residents who lost their jobs or had their hours reduced due to the pandemic were looking to retrain for new employment last fall, Valencia College sprung into action. The community college, based in Orlando, partnered with a local workforce organization to offer accelerated training in a range of fields at the Orange County Convention Center.

Orange County used money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act to fund the program. Although the pop-up site was new, Valencia is well-versed in conducting short-term training programs across the region.

The college runs four sites, called Centers for Accelerated Training, that combine classrooms and hands-on lab space. They offer four- to 18-week training programs that lead to industry certifications in areas such as logistics, construction, and welding. "We try to only put programs in place that address the talent needs of employers in critical industries," said Carol Traynor, Valencia's senior director of public relations.

Such programs also bring training closer to where students are. "It removes transportation as a major barrier to education," Traynor said. The college rotates certain programs through locations to increase students' access to them. Valencia considers proximity to public transportation, the absence of alternative training options and local demographics when deciding where to locate a center.

Valencia is one of several community colleges across the country that is rethinking how education is delivered by bringing hands-on training to students at remote and underserved locations. College officials say this method expands higher ed access and helps students gain industry-recognized certifications and better wages.

Read the full article about students from rural areas by Charlotte West at Higher Education News.