Prairie State College Experiences Upswing In Certificate Program Enrollment

By Staff

The following is the transcript of an interview of Tanya Norfleet with Prairie State College. Ms. Norfleet is the Coordinator of Career Development Services.

Previously, she was the Enrollment Advisor/Recruiter for the college, working with high school and community recruitment within the Prairie State College District. She has a Masters of Art Degree in Communications & Training from Governors State University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from Michigan State University.

Prairie State College (PSC) is a community college located approximately 30 miles south of downtown Chicago in Chicago Heights, IL. The Career Development Services Department assists current students and PSC alumni with locating job opportunities, provide free professional workshops on topics such as resume writing, interview skills, job search techniques, how to attend a job fair, and mock interviewing. They offer bi-annual job fairs held in April and October of every year that are free and open to the students, alumni, and community members.

Interview transcript

CityTownInfo: Can you provide any data on how much student enrollment has changed due to the recession?

Tanya Norfleet: Student enrollment increased 3.2% for our current Spring Semester, which began in January. The college's current target market is to increase the number of Hispanic students and African-American males.

CityTownInfo: What career advice would you offer to someone entering college today?

Tanya Norfleet: I think the most important thing is for someone to try to have an idea of what they are thinking about doing as a career after college. They don't have to be one hundred percent sure about what they are going to do, because most students often change their minds. But having somewhat of an idea may save some time and money in the long run. We tend to see a lot of people who are changing their major multiple times. They may have a bachelor's degree already, then come back to school to earn an associates or certificate with a different focus from their previous major. Having an idea of what one wants to do before deciding on a major and researching the future prospects for that career is very helpful.

CityTownInfo: About how many people are coming back for their associate's degree after they have already earned a bachelor's degree?

Tanya Norfleet: I am not sure of an exact statistic, but we do see people who already have other degrees come back for associate's degrees or certificates in different disciplines.

CityTownInfo: Is the school making program adjustments to deal with the current recession? If so are the changes more focused on certain programs or are they being made across the board?

Tanya Norfleet: I would say we are focusing more on career programs -- we had an event last fall that highlighted some of our short-term programs. Our career programs are usually something that can be completed in two years or less. We have been highlighting those types of programs because the school has been really looking at to attract people who have been laid off and are looking for a new career path.

CityTownInfo: So you focus more on the certificate and short-term educational programs?

Tanya Norfleet: Yes. Associates and applied sciences are the areas with the most career opportunities. Students can quickly get an education and go straight into the workforce instead of the transfer degrees that could take four years. Some of the most popular certificate programs here are HVAC, automotive, and CNA.

CityTownInfo: So the popularity of certificate or associates programs versus those that take more than two years are up-trending?

Tanya Norfleet: Yes. Our nursing and dental hygiene programs offer associate degrees in applied science, and those are career programs that always have good future prospects.

CityTownInfo: Are there any particular programs or majors whose graduates are having an easier time finding jobs than others?

Tanya Norfleet: Those in healthcare of course always have good prospects. Nursing, dental hygiene and surgical tech students seem to do well, as well as education and some of the technology fields.

Real Life Career Stories from

Nursing, one of the programs pointed out by Tanya Norfleet, remains a hot career for students. CityTownInfo offers a series of stories, told by real nurses and other professionals, about what their jobs are like. Here is an excerpt from one of many Nursing Career Stories:

"1. Before you get into nursing school, take all of the prerequisites before the actual nursing program such as English, sciences, anatomy / physiology etc., because the actual nursing program is intense and you need to concentrate solely on that.

2. If you don't have to work while going to school, don't - because you will need to concentrate on the nursing program. It's pretty intense and most need to study in order to maintain an 80% grade, which is only a C!

Nursing is a very gratifying career, if you are a caretaker type of person and want to help people, this is the job for you. The pay is good, but that is not the reason to be a nurse."

To research your career of choice, check out CityTownInfo's Career Information Page

CityTownInfo: If a student comes to you and they have absolutely no idea what they might like to major in, do you steer them towards a career interest survey or a Myers-Briggs-type analysis? Or, do you say, "These jobs have projected longevity, so if you want to avoid potential layoffs maybe this is something you might consider."?

Tanya Norfleet: First off we ask them what their interests are. If they have no clue whether they want to do a career program or if they think they want to transfer on and receive their bachelor's degree, we direct them to start with general education courses. We do a career assessment in all of the communication one-on-one classes.

CityTownInfo: Which online resources do you wish were available to help you with your students' career selection?

Tanya Norfleet: Online resources to help students with disabilities find careers would be very helpful.

CityTownInfo: What are the three most important things that a student can do to prepare themselves for finding a job after college?

Tanya Norfleet: I think researching the positions is very important. I don't think most people do enough research into their prospective career choice, its opportunities, and potential longevity, which is especially important in this economy.

CityTownInfo: What is the best way to go about doing that?

Tanya Norfleet: Growth can be seen via statistics. Students should know whether or not that career is still going to be around in the next few years or if it is going to be obsolete by time they finish school.

Networking is important as well, whether it is joining professional organizations the alumni association at a university, or something similar. Having industry contacts is the key because if the student knows someone in their field of interest, their contact may be able to give the student some insight and help them get their foot in the door.

CityTownInfo: Do you have any career related books that you recommend to your students?

Tanya Norfleet: Yes, the Occupational Outlook Handbook by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics for United States Government and Oxford, which is offered in print and online. The online version is more up-to-date. Students can go online and look up any career and it will tell them what to expect regarding: the nature of the work, how much money employees are expected to make, how much education is needed, and growth prospects. It is updated every year. That's my number-one resource recommendation.

CityTownInfo: Does your career office offer mock interviews?

Tanya Norfleet: Yes, we do. We offer job fairs once every semester, where we hold workshops on resume writing and interview skills. We teach the students how to dress professionally and how to communicate effectively with an employer.

CityTownInfo: In economic downturns you hear about job seekers trying creative methods for getting their foot in the door at a company. They might offer to work for free for a few months or do some volunteer work. Are there any other unusual ideas that you would advocate students to try in difficult times?

Tanya Norfleet: Offering to work free, interning or volunteering are all excellent ideas. If a student or potential employee has to volunteer or work for free to get their foot in the door, then they should take that opportunity. Also, taking an extra class or more, for instance, if they are trying to enter a field where that skill set would be beneficial to landing a job.

Also, creative resumes work if the student is applying to a field where creativity is sought. For example, when a student is applying for a graphic design job, she or he shouldn't just send a resume and cover letter. Visual samples showing what the student can do stand out -- creative jobs don't always have to have conventional application processes.

CityTownInfo: What are the most common errors you believe students make during an interview?

Tanya Norfleet: Focusing on what the company can do for them and not what the interviewee can do for the company. I think sometimes interviewees fail to realize that they need to portray what they are going to bring to the company, instead of focusing on what the company is going to give to them. Also, conducting research on the company prior to the interview is very important. I have sat on interview committees before, and when people and are answering questions you can tell whether or not they have any idea what the position entails or what the company is about.

Dressing unprofessionally for an interview happens frequently. Also, anticipate certain questions. You are not going to get the same questions every time, but of course there are those same standards that most companies use. Scenario questions are common. "Tell me about a situation when you had to work in a team?" or "Can you give examples of three of your weaknesses and three abilities?" Questions like that.

CityTownInfo: Do you expect the stimulus package to have an impact on your students' ability to secure jobs?

Tanya Norfleet: I believe that it will. I know it's going to take some time, but I think it will impact and help students find jobs. I just think they need to be a little open-minded at first, because even students graduating during a good economy need to know that sometimes they may have to work outside of the industry or do something a little different than what they actually went to school to do.

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