FAIRMONT, W.Va. — Community colleges are often overlooked by graduating high school students looking to further their education, but the opportunities afforded through those programs are tremendous.

Dr. Johnny Moore, president of Pierpont Community & Technical College, said community colleges nationwide pride themselves on being accessible and affordable for students because “a four-year education is not for everybody.”

“That’s a part of our mission, to enhance the quality of life for people, certainly in North Central West Virginia, through accessible, affordable and high quality education opportunities,” Moore said. “In fact, our partnerships with industries, I believe, represent a very successful model of how business and education can coexist and work hand in hand for the success of our students.”

The newest example of that is a partnership with FirstEnergy Corporation, called the Power Systems Institute.

“It’s a two-year program, that combines hands on utility skills training at FirstEnergy’s facility here, as well as having that technical coursework training here that’s taught by our professors here at the ATC,” Moore said. “At the end of the program, students graduate with an associate’s degree in hand, with a focus on electric utility technology.”

A recent study from West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research showed a $33 million economic impact that community and technical colleges are having on West Virginia’s economy.

“Our institution is leading all community colleges within the state as it relates to economic impact,” Moore said. “That speaks about the relationship that we’re building and the support that we get from the community, and FirstEnergy is a good example of that. It’s a return on an investment.”

Similar to the college’s aviation programs, students within the Power Systems Institute have jobs secure prior to graduation and often graduate with little or no student debt.

“The beauty of what we do is we train people to work here and stay here, if they so choose,” Moore said.

Under the umbrella of Pierpont Community & Technical College falls not only the School of Business, Aviation and Technology, but also the School of Health Careers, the School of Workforce Education and the School of Human Services.

This fall, Pierpont will add yet another program — cyber security.

“That is one of the most in demand or hottest careers out there. It starts in August,” Moore said. “In fact, we’re receiving phone calls from a variety of companies wanting to develop partnerships with us right away prior to even starting the program of having some sort of internship program set up for our students.”

As more and more high school graduates turn to community and technical colleges, Moore sees the variety of programs and opportunities continuing to grow.

“My goal as president is to understand the changing needs of our local business and industry and help present with them solutions,” he said. “In fact, I met with a company the other day. First thing out of my mouth was, ‘What can we do to assist you?’ and that’s what we do at community colleges.”

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