Harper College

Harper College in Palatine, Ill., inspires community residents to enrich their lives and advance their careers through education. Established by referendum in 1965, Harper is now one of the nation’s premier community colleges and one of the largest, serving more than 35,000 students annually in Chicago’s northwest suburbs.

Harper offers 40-plus degree programs and more than 100 career certificates. With a 22:1 student to teacher ratio, dedicated professors bring real-world experience and expertise directly to the classroom. From the award-winning Child Learning Center and the Lifelong Learning Institute (age 55-plus) to renowned performing and cultural arts events and professional development continuing education, Harper’s world-class learning environment provides every opportunity for success.

All of Harper College’s efforts are grounded in increasing the number of students who complete credentials, or finish. This simple yet powerful theme is critical to our community’s and nation’s success.

Innovative Employer-Driven Pathways

Harper launches apprenticeships

Harper College recently launched its first apprenticeships, positioning students for success through the ultimate earn-and-learn experience.

The college partnered with two international organizations – Zurich Insurance Group and the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest – to establish apprentice programs in the insurance and manufacturing fields.

The programs emulate longtime successful dual education models in Switzerland and Germany, and according to the White House are a proven training strategy for workers to learn the skills that employers need for American businesses to grow and thrive in a competitive global environment.

“These apprenticeships are valuable for the employers and valuable for the students,” said Dr. Rebecca Lake, Dean of Workforce and Economic Development at Harper. “The companies are making a real investment in students who will hopefully become long-term assets to their organizations.”

The White House recognized Harper’s efforts by awarding a $2.5 million grant to support Apprenticeships on Demand, a new initiative that aims to integrate technical instruction and on-the-job learning to train workers in high-growth and high-demand fields including insurance, IT and manufacturing.

The first cohort of insurance apprentices began a two-and-a-half-year program focusing on claims and underwriting. Apprentices are paid employees of Zurich and earn academic credit and industry certifications along the way. The Swiss company is committed to having 100 apprentices in the program by 2020. Zurich’s aim is to create a channel that bolsters the supply of talent entering the insurance field. After the pilot program with Harper is completed, the company hopes to scale up the program industry-wide.

In manufacturing, Harper teamed with the German-American chamber to launch the Industrial Maintenance Mechanic apprenticeship program. The goal is to address the need for skilled workers in northern Illinois as an aging workforce and image problem continue to challenge manufacturers.

A cohort of about 10 Harper students recently began three years of training toward becoming industrial technicians, who manufacture, maintain and monitor technical systems. They’ll alternate between blocks of coursework on campus and on-the-job training at partner companies.

In addition to paying tuition, the employers will provide students with weekly stipends while in school and hourly wages while working. In total, companies will annually compensate each trainee between $20,000 and $25,000 in tuition and salary over each of the three years. Upon successful completion, students graduate with an Associate in Applied Science degree and receive guaranteed employment for two years at a higher pay rate.

Key STEM Programs

Harper’s Advanced Manufacturing program a model for the nation

When Harper College launched a new advanced manufacturing training program in 2012, the goal was to address a severe shortage of skilled workers in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. At the time, The Manufacturing Institute found companies couldn’t fill an estimated 600,000 skilled positions nationwide and that 82 percent of manufacturers had a moderate-to-severe shortage of qualified workers.

Developed in close partnership with area manufacturers, Harper’s innovative program provides students with paid internships after just a semester or two with companies such as global defense contractor Northrop Grumman. And in less than a year, students can earn industry-endorsed skills certificates that are recognized and accepted by local employers.

Those certificates – in precision machining, mechatronics/automation, metal fabrication and supply chain management – are also stackable, meaning they merge seamlessly into a clear pathway to associate and baccalaureate degrees.

Meaningful impact on the region will take some time, but early results are overwhelmingly positive. Students are regularly hired fulltime by partner companies. And perhaps more importantly, antiquated perceptions of manufacturing are beginning to transform.

Partnerships with area employers and school districts are essential to the program’s success.

“None of us can solve the shortage of skilled workers in isolation,” Harper College President Dr. Ender said. “By working together, we can ensure that our local manufacturers have the highly trained workforce they need to compete.”

Harper’s advanced manufacturing program quickly received national recognition. The U.S. Department of Labor awarded the college a $13 million grant through the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training program to expand Harper’s program to other community colleges throughout Illinois. Officials said the expansion would allow more colleges statewide to forge partnerships that train workers for 21st century jobs.

The University of Nebraska-based National Council of Instructional Administrators also named Harper the Exemplary Initiatives winner for Community and Workforce Needs. The national award recognizes innovative workforce training programs.

In 2013, Dr. Ender was named to a high-level White House committee working to solve the shortage of skilled workers for the resurgent manufacturing industry. U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker put together the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership Steering Committee 2.0 to look at programs to train more workers and find ways to spur development of promising new manufacturing technologies.

Another key component of Harper’s advanced manufacturing program has been community outreach.

The college has hosted a series of manufacturing summits that bring together industry experts in education, economics, human resources and manufacturing. Their goal is to transform perceptions about manufacturing, which offers high-paying jobs in high-tech environments.

In addition, Harper rolled out a Manufacturing Careers and Entrepreneurship program for teens ages 15 to 18 to explore manufacturing careers as they exist in modern America – where computers and robots pack the work floor. Participants design and build a product in Harper’s manufacturing lab and follow the entrepreneurship process from conception to pricing and marketing. They learn the basics of computer-aided design and manufacturing machinery operation under the supervision of expert trainers and visit local manufacturers.

Harper also takes part in Manufacturing Day, a growing grass-roots movement of U.S. and Canadian manufacturers out to demonstrate the potential of present-day manufacturing and foster interest in related careers. High school students and adults in the community are invited to hear from Harper advanced manufacturing program students, observe lab demonstrations and visit open houses at partnering manufacturers.

All these events emphasize a variety of statistics that support the idea that the resurgent manufacturing industry can provide rewarding, family-sustaining careers. For instance, The Manufacturing Institute issued a report showing the average total compensation for manufacturing workers in the U.S. totaled nearly $80,000 compared to about $67,000 for nonmanufacturing workers. And 78 percent of manufacturing firms offer health benefits compared to 54 percent of nonmanufacturing private sector firms.

In early 2016, Harper will open a new $1.5 million facility designed to create those critically needed skilled workers. The new 6,000 square-foot Fabricators & Manufacturers Association Metal Fabrication Lab was funded in part by a $500,000 grant from the FMA. The lab will train up to 600 students annually in high-tech manufacturing careers and house modern equipment such as lasers, turrets, press brakes and robotic welders.

“We're hopeful that what we do gives the community a sense of what manufacturing means in the 21st century,” says Dr. Maria Coons, Vice President of Workforce and Strategic Alliances at Harper College. “It's important to change the long-held perceptions of manufacturing. There are high-paying jobs available for people with the right skills, and our goal at Harper is to educate about the opportunities and make sure those pursuing them have the training they need to be successful.”

Communications and Social Media for Institution

Kim Pohl, Media Relations Manager



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1200 W Algonquin Rd
Palatine, IL 60067
United States
(847) 925-6000