From COVID to Career Education: Orange County’s Career Education Deans Weigh In Feature Story

August 06, 2021

If we’ve learned anything from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that stable and secure careers start with a quality college education you can count on. That’s why Orange County’s community colleges have worked so hard to overcome the challenges created by the pandemic in order to continue providing the career-focused training today’s workers and businesses need to thrive and grow. As economies across the country start to recover, Orange County’s community college career education programs stand ready to meet the training needs of prospective students and regional industries alike.

Keep reading to hear Orange County’s career education deans discuss their college’s “hidden gems,” new programs, and what they’re most excited about this academic year.

Coastline College
Shelly Blair, Ph.D., Dean of Innovative Learning & Career Education

Which CE program is your college’s “hidden gem” and why?

I’m really excited about our ABA accredited Paralegal program. Our Paralegal faculty truly support students to succeed. Our faculty have the know-how to guide students to not only complete the program but also to obtain jobs. Our success rates in this program are excellent, and our faculty’s close attention to students is the reason why.

What new or existing career education program are you most excited about and why?

Coastline’s AA in Business with a focus on Management has recently been selected for the new Competency Based Education Collaborative Grant. We are very excited that our business department is spearheading this new method of education for community college students. We are working to create a full CBE pathway for business that will truly meet students where they are. CBE is flexible, self-paced learning with the full support of faculty & coaches—we think it’s going to be an extremely effective model.

Cypress College
Kathleen Reiland, Ed.D., Dean, Career Technical Education & Economic Development

Why is career education a great choice for students ESPECIALLY in the post-COVID world?

Students may not have the luxury of devoting 4-6 years to their education when they first graduate from high school. Career education offers quick access to the specific training and hands-on skills that can lead to excellent jobs with living wages. Once they are gainfully employed, students often pursue higher education for advancement opportunities with less debt and higher salaries than students who went directly to four-year colleges. Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce has put together some compelling data that supports the return-on-investment value of community colleges. 

For example, according to the recently published “Buyer Beware: First-Year Earnings and Debt for 37,000 College Majors at 4,400 Institutions,” some associate’s degree programs lead to higher median first-year earnings than the median first-year earnings for master’s degree programs. Similarly, “Graduates who earn an associate’s degree from Pierpont Community and Technical College in West Virginia to become an electrical and power transmission installer can expect to make $6,700 per month ($80,400 per year) in their first year after graduation. That’s a lot of money, especially when you consider that the median first-year earnings for all programs at the bachelor’s degree level is $2,900 per month ($34,800 per year).” 

Fullerton College
Ken Starkman, Dean, Technology and Engineering Division

What new or existing career education program are you most excited about and why?

Fullerton College is rolling out a new Resort and Facilities Management program.  This program is a partnership between the business and construction departments at Fullerton College. The program will focus on developing management theory and human resource skills as well as technical skills that are needed to manage facilities with respect to conserving resources such as energy and water. We are very excited about this program because there are so many resorts and other facilities in our region. This occupational field generally includes internships to allow new individuals to learn the unique management functions of a hospital, theme park, hotel or production facility. For more information, prospective students can email coordinator Gary Graves at

In light of the shifting requirements created by COVID, what can CE students expect (in terms of curriculum, teaching modalities, etc.) from their career education classes this year?

Fullerton College will be offering a mix of face-to face and online courses this fall.  You can visit the fall schedule at where you are able to identify which classes will meet in person and which will be online. 

Irvine Valley College
Debbie Vanschoelandt, Dean, Career and Continuing Education, and Integrated Design, Engineering and Automation (IDEA)

Why is career education a great choice for students ESPECIALLY in the post-COVID world?

Career Education is a great choice for students anytime but especially in a post-COVID world.  Career Education programs prepare students to meet the demands of the workforce by providing them with the real-world skills and technical knowledge needed for high-wage, high-demand careers. Students have access to state-of-the-art labs and workspaces and receive specialized instruction from faculty experts. Career Education programs are designed to be completed quickly. This allows students to learn a new skill or retool an existing skill set in a short amount of time and enter the workforce with the knowledge and skills needed to be successful.  Career Education can be a viable option for workers displaced by the pandemic.  They can complete a program quickly and return to the workforce. It is also important to mention, especially in a post-COVID world, the costs to enroll in a Career Education program at a community college are far less than what one would spend at a CSU or UC.

What other services does your college offer to support career readiness and success among career education students and graduates?

Irvine Valley College Career Center counselors and staff provide career exploration and planning workshops on a weekly basis, including Choosing a Major/Career, Researching a Career, Networking, and Informational Interviewing. The Career Center hosts career fairs throughout the semester and provides ongoing guidance and career research assistance through one-on-one counseling appointments. The Career Center supports the College Center Network, the college’s job posting site. The site allows employers to post part-time and full-time employment opportunities, as well as internship opportunities. Internships, in conjunction with Cooperative Work Experience coursework and faculty mentorship, allow students to engage in on-the-job career exploration and provide real-world experience for CE students.

Orange Coast College
Lisa F. Knuppel, Dean of Business, Computing and Career Education

Which CE program is your college’s “hidden gem” and why?

OCC’s Information Technology (IT) program is a “hidden gem” that helps candidates enter or advance in the high-demand, high-wage world of IT professionals in as little as 16 weeks. Employment of computer support specialists is projected to grow 8 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. More support services will be needed as organizations upgrade their computer equipment and software. OCC offers programs for students who are new to IT as well as short-term training to help more experienced IT professionals add skills and certifications in Virtualization and Cloud Computing and Network Security.  Curriculum is aligned to the key industry certifications that employers want.

What other services does your college offer to support career readiness and success among career education students and graduates?

The Career Center at Orange Coast College is a fantastic resource for students to explore career paths and related majors, identify target careers, and prepare to pursue internships and post-college careers. Our Career Center offers career-development workshops; online resources; assessments and tools; and an online job/internship board where our partnering businesses recruit students for open jobs. We have full-time Career Counselor on staff to support students in all aspects of their career development, from exploration and assessment, to job and internship search, and job applications including interview preparation. We present career-related workshops with industry guest speakers and panels, and on-campus recruiting and interviewing for immediate job placement.

Saddleback College
Kari Irwin, Assistant Dean, Career Education

Why is career education a great choice for students especially in the post-COVID world?

As our communities recover from the challenges of the pandemic, many have faced situations they never expected to have including health concerns, food and housing insecurities, income changes, and more. Career Education (CE) is the opportunity to strengthen their future. Our CE programs are ready to be the catalyst for improving the lives of our students. This may be the time to reset a path, upgrade skills to increase value in the workplace, and explore new career interests. Our recent alumni who have earned a CE certificate or even just nine units to build skills have shared their feedback, and report that after training at Saddleback, they earn, on average, $7 more per hour than they did before training – amounting to a difference of $13,440 a year. 

What other services does your college offer to support career readiness and success among career education students and graduates?

Understanding how to communicate your new knowledge, skills and abilities to current and future employers is essential in taking the next career step. We have many services on campus to assist with career guidance and planning, resume writing, interviewing techniques, networking, and connecting with employers.  These services are provided through free workshops, career fairs, and personal appointments. Our Counseling Department, Career Resource Center, and Career Placement Services are all ready to assist.