OPM and Vermont college offer tech courses to feds

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High-tech careers aren’t just for millenials. And now, upgrading your tech education has gotten a little easier and more affordable for federal employees and their families.

Through an arrangement by the Office of Personnel Management, federal employees will have the opportunity to take a wide range of technical courses through Champlain College, a private school with undergraduate and graduate programs. The arrangement is part of an effort to close the technology skills gap in government.

And even though the college’s website invites prospective students to visit its “stunning campus” in Burlington, Vt., federal workers and their families will be able to choose from more than 60 courses online to pursue degrees in cutting-edge technology, business and healthcare fields.

The partnership was forged over about six months between the college and OPM and will allow workers to choose from nationally recognized online certificate, bachelor’s and master’s degree programs starting in the summer semester – at up to a 70% discount, said Jayson Boyers, vice president of Champlain College.

“We know the current state of higher education is constantly in the news – we know the role of debt is huge,” Boyers said during a press call on Monday about the program. Workers “not only have access to online education, but also a degree in which they can be proud of and … the ability for them to move forward in their career, advance in their agency and help them create more financial security for their families.”

Through a special monthly subscription model, students can get an academic certificate in about a year for as low as $3,000, he said. Tuition and fees in the 2014-15 school year ran up to nearly $33,000.

Programs in fields like cybersecurity, digital forensics and health care administration will be available to federally-employed students, and hopefully foster the recruitment and retention of top talent, said Sydney Smith-Heimbrock, chief learning officer and deputy associate director of Strategic Workforce Planning at OPM.

“We recognize that the federal government has a lot of challenges as we work with agencies to recruit the best people,” said Smith-Heimbrock. “Cybersecurity is the highest-risk occupation … OPM needs to find innovative ways to make sure we have people with the right skills to protect the government information infrastructure, and through Champlain, we see an opportunity for federal employees to enhance their skills and perhaps also for employees to move into cybersecurity as a specialization area.”

OPM has another year-old partnership with the University of Maryland, through which about 1,200 employees have taken online courses. The courses are not linked to work promotions, but serve as a more general opportunity for people who want to learn new skills or progress in their careers, said Smith-Heimbrock.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., praised the program, saying it “creates a direct path to prepare our federal workforce for the challenges we face today, and the challenges we will face tomorrow.”

“This partnership is both a step forward in helping families to advance their own educational opportunities, and in addressing the nation’s security,” Leahy said in a statement.

Federal employees can start applying for the summer term, which begins on July 6. The deadline to apply is June 5.

There will also be a webinar about the program Thursday at 2 p.m. Visit http://www.champlain.edu/truEDFed to learn more.

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Agencies, Champlain College, Cybersecurity, Education, Education / STEM, emerging technology, Government IT News, Office of Personnel Management (OPM), Tech
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