Hey, employer.

Looking for a well-trained oil field technician?

Navarro’s graduating ’em.

Desperate for certified firefighters or nurses?

Look no further. The fastest-growing college of its size in the country is right here in Ellis County and with a wide range of career prep programs Navarro College is cranking out the graduates to fill those vacancies – sometimes even before the students leave high school.

Even in times of economic setback – no, especially when the economy is flagging, Navarro makes sense, said Dr. Harold Nolte, president of the Navarro system’s Ellis County campuses.

“We’re seeing a lot of people coming back because they’re seeing that education and healthcare are recession-proof. People are tired of losing their jobs, and they’re coming back to school,” he said.

Terry Gibson agreed.

“My dad always told me education was the one thing they can’t take from you. When the economy goes south, the more prepared you are, the more employable you will be,” said Gibson, assistant dean of administrative and student services at Navarro.

High school and college, simultaneously

Stepping up to career readiness has a unique slant for area high school students, who can get college credits while they accrue those needed for high school graduation via dual credit.

“Our dual credit program is going gangbusters, we’re doing so much that it’s amazing,” Nolte said.

Dr. Patricia Westergaard agreed.

“There’s been a shift to dual credit for students as they realize they can have two years of college credit at graduation. Some graduate with an associate’s degree at the same time as they graduate high school,” said Westergaard, assistant dean of instructional services for Navarro.

Just one example: 

Through the Waxahachie High School health science program, seniors can choose pharmaceutical technology, phlebotomy or EMT technology, and the high school pays for it. The student comes to the college for 16 weeks, three nights a week, and they can graduate high school as an EMT, and then, if they want, choose to start their paramedic training in the fall.

From there, the graduate can go work at a hospital, and may choose to bridge from paramedic to nursing, said Kristin Walker, director of continuing education and protective services at Navarro. 

Then there’s what’s known as “2+2.”

At the Midlothian campus, Navarro offers the last two years of certain education programs and an applied science degree in business.

“It’s amazing – people don’t have to commute. If you want to be an elementary school teacher or teach science or math. We’ve trained lots of teachers who have gone to Navarro and graduated from TAMU-Commerce without ever going to Commerce,” Gibson said. “That program is just huge.”

Students can register with TAMU and do their BAAS online, sometimes in as little as 18 months, depending on their credits.

Nolte said it’s estimated that online degrees will constitute 20 percent of the population of graduating students – but online studies aren’t for everyone. Some students just need the face time in the classroom or need to pace their online work.

“Students tend to bite off more than they can chew with the online classes, but for ones who know how to discipline their time, it’s a lifesaver,” Gibson said.

Meeting employer demands

What’s good for the employer is good for the student body and the balance of core subjects and specialties is carefully honed at Navarro, with a weather eye to trends in employment.

Navarro offers an expansive listing of business, professional and technical education offerings, including such certificate and or associate degree programs in the areas of accounting, business administration, child development, computer science, cosmetology, fire science technology, industrial maintenance, legal assistant, multimedia, software development, oil and gas production and others.

“With the completion of certificates and or associate degrees, students are positioned to obtain meaningful employment in the workplace or students may then choose to articulate with partnering university and pursue a BAAS degree. With a strong background and successful history in allied health, Navarro College also provides educational opportunities in the fields of vocational nursing, associate degree in nursing, occupational therapy, medical laboratory technician,” said Harold L. Housley, dean of business, professional and technical education.

The school continues to offer more technical programs, like the oil and gas programs, which recently benefited from a $2.4 million grant from Encana for turning out oil and gas graduates for employee-hungry oil companies, desperately in need of oil field workers because their workers are retiring.

 That program makes use of the college’s multi-campus resources, Gibson said.

“The labs are in Corsicana, but we’re getting more and more classes that can be offered up here. We connect to Corsicana with video conferencing, so students can take a course in Corsicana and here at the same time – we have one instructor and two locations that need it,” she said. 

With the school’s rapid growth in Ellis County, it has become the first and best source for local employers, Nolte said, pointing to the health and safety industries as an example. The college offers certifications and degrees for firefighters.

“Any kind of first responders, we educate – nurses, LVNs, paramedics, police, fire, EMT – anybody like that. The CNAs in the nursing homes, medical coding specialists,” he said. “We work with all the local departments.” 

A list of prospective employers ready to hire new grads from Navarro’s yearlong licensed vocational nursing program often includes companies like Charlton Methodist Hospital in Dallas and Heritage Oaks Retirement Village in Corsicana.

And as chief nursing officer at Navarro Regional Hospital in Corsicana, Robbin Odom has a vested interest and the pride of an alum as she watches  the college’s nursing and allied health programs bloom.

“Navarro College is a wonderful asset for our community and the surrounding area,” Odom said. As a graduate of Navarro College 18 years ago, she did her clinicals in the same hospital where she is now employed.

She recognizes both the value of the education Navarro provides for the student and for the institution they find a career at.

“We have formed a great relationship with the program and the instructors, some of which also are part time or former employees of the hospital. Our close relationship is not only beneficial for job placement purposes, but it allows ongoing communication of the latest industry standards and best practices to help ensure that the learning experience is as robust and up-to-date as possible,” Odom said.

“We benefit from being able to recruit these candidates knowing that they have been exposed to a thorough curriculum,” she said.

Keeping up with the times

For Navarro College, keeping up with the times means the student body reflects Ellis County’s growing  population, Nolte said.

“Our demographics have really changed a lot along with the demographics of Ellis County. There’s been a surge in Hispanic students – that’s the fastest-growing segment of the population, so that will have an impact on the education workforce,” he said.

For students needing to brush up on English skills to be ready for a career in North Central Texas, the Que Pasa class has been popular, along with ESOL-developmental classes. These free programs are offered through adult-based education in the evening with GED classes and ESL college-prep classes.

Additionally, the school stands in the gap for students looking to jump into the latest technology to prepare for the workforce.

“We offer more technical courses preparing students in advanced computer classes – we try to put them on the pathways,” Walker said.

Navarro College ranks at the top nationwide for growth among similar colleges. In 10 years, the school has grown 144 percent, becoming the fastest growing community college in the nation for its size, according to Community College Week last year.

In fall 2008, the total headcount for all Navarro campuses  was 8,328 students.  Of the total headcount, 45 percent of all NC students reside in Ellis County.

Also in fall 2008, 2411 students attended the Waxahachie campus and 991 attended the Midlothian campus.  The total unduplicated headcount for students attending classes in Ellis County was 2,945.  It’s worth noting that many students who reside in Ellis County live on campus and take classes in Corsicana, not to mention the large number who take Internet classes.

In fall 2008, the Ellis County campuses showed an overall increase in enrollment of 16.5 percent over the previous fall, impressive growth compared to other Texas community colleges, administrators say.

Key to the school’s phenomenal growth is a flexibility underlying all programs: It’s all about meeting workplace needs, Nolte said.

“We’re adding four new instructors because of the phenomenal growth – we had 28 percent growth in Waxahachie last year and Midlothian is growing quickly as well,” Nolte said.

The first day of January registration brought 300 students through the Waxahachie campus doors, compared to Corsicana, where they registered 371.

So what’s the secret sauce to that kind of growth?

“One of the things I hear a lot is that we have leadership that really pushes service to students. We have really tried to make customer service a priority and to make sure students feel welcome. We do a phenomenal job with the staff we have,” Gibson said.

“So many parents have come through and now their kids are coming through – and sometimes it’s just the opposite,” Gibson said.

There are plenty of reasons for the taxpaying public to root for continued growth and strength for Navarro. A vibrant education system has a sociological effect on a community.

“There are two ways you can go in this world now – you can go to prison or you can go get an education,” Nolte said. “In 1995, they started building more prisons than educational institutions. Very few people who have an education are going to go rob you.”

There’s another reason to look through the Navarro College catalog.

“With the ebb and flow of the economy, economics is the class to take – it’s so fascinating right now, it’s the best time to take that class,” Nolte said.

E-mail J.Louise at jlouise.larson@wninews.com