New pathway lets trades grads earn degrees

  • Published Friday, December 18, 2020

RTC two students in graduation regalia and orange hard hats smiling at the camera.

Renton Technical College and Central Washington University have created a new program to help people in the occupational trades earn a college degree by counting work and apprenticeship experience toward degree completion.  

RTC and CWU signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in October that will allow more apprentice-level workers to develop their project management skills and earn a bachelor of applied science (BAS) degree.

The new CWU-RTC partnership will provide a four-year degree pathway for carpentry apprentice students enrolled in RTC's Multi-Occupational Trades Program. Starting early next year, the two institutions will work together to help RTC carpentry students pursue a BAS through the FlexIT Information Technology and Administrative Management (ITAM) program at CWU. 

"We look forward to working with Renton Technical College so their alumni and current students — and people with industry experience — can earn a four-year degree," said Ediz Kaykayoglu, CWU's dean of Extended and Global Education. 

RTC carpentry apprentice students already have an opportunity to pursue an applied associate's degree in Multi-Occupational Trades, but the partnership with CWU will benefit those who want to pursue a four-year degree and move into a management track.

Sarah Wakefield, RTC's dean for general education and transfer, said she expects the MOU to provide more opportunities and greater earning potential for aspiring administrative management professionals. Multi-Occupational Trades Program instructors have been adapting to the changing environment in recent years, and the partnership with CWU is a logical next step.

"Instructors who teach online general-education classes like math, English, and economics have created more flexible schedules to accommodate the long work hours in the construction industry," Wakefield said. "This aligns nicely with CWU's all-online FlexIT model, where students learn at their own pace."

Under the agreement, apprentices can complete up to 109 credits at RTC between time on the job and in the classroom, and CWU will accept those credits toward an ITAM degree in project management. 

CWU FlexIT Coordinator Liz Fountain explained that the program is designed to reward students for skills they already possess while allowing them additional time to complete other course requirements. 

"FlexIT meets students where they are," she said. "Instead of being tied to 10 weeks per course, students can move at their own speed — faster or slower — through course work that builds on the knowledge and abilities they've earned in work and life. That makes the program ideal for people working in the trades, honing their skills with real-world learning."

The partnership with RTC fits well with the university's goal of helping more Washingtonians earn four-year degrees.

"Helping transfer students succeed is a huge part of our mission," Kaykayoglu said. "For us, this is about removing barriers for transfer students so that students get the degree they need to advance in their careers."

The RTC-CWU partnership is part of Lieutenant Governor Cyrus Habib's Complete Washington initiative, established in 2018, with input from employers and industry leaders, to create educational opportunities that are self-paced, affordable, and convenient.

The lieutenant governor's office has identified fields in which bachelor's degrees are in high demand, including construction trades. Another goal of the initiative is to make college more accessible by eliminating common barriers, such as cost, inflexible class schedules, and a feeling of being disconnected from job opportunities.

"Lieutenant Governor Habib believes college should be accessible and affordable for every Washingtonian, regardless of where they come from," said Mary Chikwinya, director of higher education for the lieutenant governor's office. 

"Complete Washington is our office's way of making that idea a reality. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of our higher education and industry partners, this new apprenticeship pathway will give credit where credit's due by counting work and apprenticeship experience toward degree completion."


Media contact: Katherine Hedland Hansen, khansen@rtc.edu.