Wake Tech’s Well-Timed Grant Success

Lessons Learned
Wake Tech’s business analytics grant project

In 2012 Wake Technical Community College was awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) initiative—$2.9M to train displaced workers and other students in business analytics, leading to high-skill, high-demand jobs. Last week, halfway through the grant period, GrantProse sat down with Richard Sullins, Dean of Sponsored Programs at WTCC, to discuss the project.

GP:  What are the basics of this grant project?
 This is a four-year project that started October 2012 and will end September 2016. We’re using the grant to develop our business analytics program, which offers a two-year associate’s degree and six different certificate programs. With courses like predictive modeling and statistical analysis, we’re giving students the skills to analyze the past and predict the future.

We projected that we would serve 250 students during the project. As of the fall 2014 semester, we’ve already enrolled 228 degree-seeking students. Essentially, we’ve met all of our target numbers in one year.

GP:  What are your student demographics?
Students are about half and half, employed and underemployed. Some are coming back to gain additional skills, and some lost RTP jobs in the recession.

GP:  This is the first business analytics program for a U.S. community college, right?
  It is the first—and as far as I know—the only two-year degree program in the country. Analytics is a relatively new field; five years ago it was an unheard-of profession mostly reserved for the master’s level and above. Now that analytics is becoming more prominent nationally and internationally, a skills gap has been growing and we identified a need for workers to fill an intermediate role.

GP:  What has your first-year evaluation shown?
It’s told us that we’re on the right track, that we’ve developed the right courses to meet industry needs. Our enrollment numbers have confirmed that.

GP:  What has this grant project done for WTCC?
 It has raised our visibility in the business community, and we’re working more closely with employers. IBM and SAS provide review of our curriculum, people who serve on our program advisory committee and conduct mock interviews with students, and current software.

This project has also helped us with our image. Because it’s a large Department of Labor project, it’s garnered interest from members of Congress, who always go away astounded at some of the things that these students are learning.

GP:  Were there any unexpected challenges to implementation?
Nothing unexpected, but there are a lot of moving parts to a large federal grant. When you get the award, you need to have your purchase orders ready, your position descriptions ready—you need to be ready to go. Time is money.

Administrative support is critical, particularly during startup. In this area, surrounded by three research universities, people qualified to teach these kinds of things get snapped up. We were prepared, having these folks ready to go on short notice. That’s important.

GP:  What would’ve happened if you had NOT applied for this grant?
The program would have been significantly delayed. Community colleges are funded on the basis of numbers served in previous years, so we’re always playing catch up in terms of funding. That means that money for program startups is much harder to come by.

GP:  Was this grant proposal your first try for funding?
This was actually the second time we applied for funding. Our initial proposal was to the National Science Foundation. They liked the idea, but it wasn’t a good fit for them at the time. That was a lesson learned: Because you’ve spent a lot of time and invested a lot of human capital in developing an idea, you don’t put it on a shelf and let it gather dust.

GP:  What are next steps for WTCC’s business analytics program?
In October we submitted a proposal for data analytics to NSF’s Advanced Technological Education grant program. We plan to expand from business analytics into other branches: healthcare, the financial industry, even criminology. Eventually, we hope to go to a third level—a national center for the study of analytics, which would allow us to expand into more and more areas.

This interview was edited for length; read the entire Q&A

Visit the webpage for WTCC’s Office of Sponsored Programs and Federal Relations to read about the college’s other awards and activities.



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