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Guest opinion: A light at the end of the tunnel, SLCC prepares Utah’s workforce for economic recovery

SLCC is well-situated to help students achieve their dreams and launch (or relaunch) successful careers during the state’s economic recovery.

Salt Lake Community College’s South City Campus is pictured in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

In these challenging times, higher education can be the light at the end of a dark tunnel — a light leading to opportunity, a better future and improved lives.

Since mid-March, approximately 150,000 Utahns have lost their jobs and thousands more are working from home as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. At Salt Lake Community College, we’re working to help students, community members and the state weather the storm and come out better prepared to thrive during our economic recovery.

Dedicated faculty, advisers and staff are eagerly helping students work toward degrees and technical certificates so they will be ready to fill high-demand jobs in tech fields, trades, health care and hospitality as the economy recovers. And we’re doing it with an eye toward affordability by providing financial assistance, postponing a planned tuition increase and waiving online technology fees for all classes through the summer semester.

More than 80% of our students work and many have lost their jobs, leaving them short on financial resources for rent, food, clothes and other essentials, not to mention educational costs. The need is great. SLCC is stepping in to help through our “Students in Crisis” program, distributing more than $5 million in federal funds for students affected by the pandemic. Our academic advisers are reaching out to students by phone to ensure everyone eligible will benefit from the program.

We know that some jobs may not come back. For our community members whose jobs disappear, SLCC offers an affordable way to retrain and build skills. We’ve coordinated closely with the Utah Department of Workforce Services to align our instruction and training with the career needs anticipated for economic recovery. Many of these careers are in the allied health, manufacturing, transportation, public safety and information technology fields.

SLCC offers instruction in high-demand skills, including computer aided design, web development, diesel technology, welding, construction, medical coding or medical office administration, peace officer training and truck driving. We take our role seriously in preparing students for jobs critical to Utah’s economic recovery well into the future.

And since many of us are tucked in at home and doing our part to crush the curve, this summer we are rolling out more than 30 free online workshops, available to anyone. These workshops are designed to provide a much-needed distraction and increase personal skills and knowledge in areas such as coding, cloud computing, optimizing job search tools, solar for homeowners, genealogy, parenting, event planning, stress and anxiety management and a host of other practical and fun skills. These free workshops are just one way SLCC can give back to the community and remind us all that we can make the most of our time at home by learning something new.

Now more than ever, ensuring that higher education is affordable is a priority. We’re proud that our tuition and fees enable those seeking baccalaureate degrees to save as much as $10,000 by first earning their associate’s degree at SLCC and then transferring to one of the state’s universities. Our short-term workforce and technical certificate programs ensure our graduates are well trained in high-demand fields at a significantly lower cost.

SLCC is well-situated to help students achieve their dreams and launch (or relaunch) successful careers during the state’s economic recovery. Affordable and focused education is the light at the end of the tunnel — a light that leads to prosperity and personal fulfillment for Utah’s students, their families, their communities and, ultimately, the nation.

Stay safe and be well.

Deneece G. Huftalin is the president Salt Lake Community College.