Graduate Tampa Bay: Colleges, Employers Team Up To Offer On-Site Degrees

Imagine a classroom at your workplace, where you can literally leave work and walk right into school, making learning convenient. A partnership with Hillsborough Community College (HCC) allows Tampa Electric Company (TECO) employees to do just that. 

Faculty members from HCC teach the associate of applied science in industrial management (A.S.) degree program completely on site at TECO's Tampa office, making it convenient for employees to learn, improve their workplace skills and ultimately earn a degree.

"TECO is a learning organization,'' says Bruce Napier, senior administrator for performance and development at TECO. "As such, we recognize that our employees need to continue learning.''

The 11-week program began in 2007 with a cohort of 40 students one night per week and has grown from there. Nine classes will be offered in the next term, mostly on site with some online. More than 400 TECO employees and family members are currently enrolled. Employees are reimbursed for tuition expenses.
Programs like these increase local educational attainment, a goal of the Graduate Tampa Bay (GTB) initiative launched in March 2012 as part of the national Talent Dividend competition. More than 50 other metropolitan areas also are competing for a $1 million prize for the city/region largest increase in college degrees by 2013.

A 1 percent increase in the number of Tampa Bay residents with college degrees would result in an additional $3 billion for the region in the form of increased productivity, innovation and social benefits.

In addition to the A.S. program, HCC offers an associate of arts in liberal arts on-site at TECO. To date, 79 people have graduated from the combined programs, with another 30 expected to graduate in November.
TECO is also partnering with Saint Leo University and the University of South Florida to provide a bachelor of science in applied science in business administration.

Finding Personal Gratification

The benefits of on-site degree programs reach beyond the classroom. Each class of 20 to 40 students comes from a variety of areas within the company. The employees study together, learn together and laugh together.

"We're a family,'' says Napier. "This just helps solidify that.''

Many TECO employees are not able to take classes in a normal college setting because of their work hours. Some of their trucks travel to other states on a moment's notice to provide disaster relief. Because of the program's flexibility, TECO can stop courses and resume them when the employees return home.

David Ware, manager of TECO's fleet department and a recent graduate of the A.S. program is grateful for the opportunity, especially for the convenience factor. 

"It was an opportunity I wouldn't have had if it hadn't been for this partnership. This program made it so easy to go back and finish. The instructors recognize that they're dealing with people who work all day,'' says Ware.

Ware started his career at TECO as a meter reader 35 years ago. He worked his way through the company in several different roles.

"I love [the fleet group],'' he says. "I grew up working on cars and hot rods. I feel right at home.''
He began the A.S. program in the mid-80s at HCC's Plant City campus but was not able to finish because of family obligations. When TECO started offering classes on-site he was at first hesitant to return to school. Around that time, his son left college during his senior year at USF. In 2009 at the age of 55, David decided to return to school. His motivation was to be a good role model for and encouragement to his son. 

"I thought I need to set an example and go back to finish what I started,'' says Ware. Ware graduated from the A.S. program in the fall of 2010. Eventually he hopes to go on to complete the B.S. program offered on site. He says he can't thank TECO and the local colleges enough for putting this together.

It's About Community

"It's bigger than me. It's people in our community that will have a chance. This will be an opportunity changer for them and open a lot of doors,'' says Ware.

HCC conducts similar partnerships with other companies, like the bus transit program in conjunction with the USF Center for Urban Transportation, offered on-site at the Pinellas Suncoast Transity Authority

"The word 'community' in our name is significant,'' says Jack Evans, dean of associate in science and technology programs at HCC. "We work with our community to further education.''

Partnerships like this allow HCC to find out what is needed in the current workforce and design programs to fill those needs.

"It's a win-win on both sides,'' says Evans.

Megan Hendricks is a Florida native and longtime Tampa Bay resident who loves the culture and diversity of the region. In her free time she enjoys local restaurants, thrift store shopping and spending time with her family. She earned her masters of business administration from USF Tampa. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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Read more articles by Megan Hendricks.

A Florida native and longtime Tampa Bay resident, Megan Hendricks graduated from the University of South Florida with a master's degree in business administration. She worked at the USF College of Business and has extensive community experience including the Tampa Bay Partnership's Talent Dividend Advisory Board, Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, Emerge Tampa Bay, Ekhos, and Bar Camp Tampa. She is a former board member and newsletter editor for Creative Tampa Bay. Megan enjoys telling the stories that make Tampa Bay a unique, diverse cultural experience.