Publications & Products
Volume 3, Issue 8

A Model Public-Private Partnership

A community college situated in a major petroleum and natural gas production region is partnering with local industry to improve economic and workforce development and grow new sources of support for the college.

Taft College is located at the southwestern edge of the San Joaquin Valley, about 35 miles west of Bakersfield, Calif. The region boasts three of the largest oil fields in the state, and the college has strong relationships with large production companies that have a local presence, including Chevron and Occidental Petroleum.

"It's good for advancement," says Sheri Horn-Bunk, executive director of the Taft College Foundation. "We have a lot of local connections we can make with great companies. The challenge we have is aligning training and certifications with industry."

She says that local industry leaders tell her they have a shortage of qualified engineers in their companies and want to work with the college to create a pipeline of competent workers who will stay in the area to take on these available jobs. Adding to the many petroleum and natural gas-related programs it already offers, the college launched a pre-engineering program with a petroleum focus last fall.

After the launch of the new program, the Taft College Foundation hosted the West Kern Petroleum Summit in October 2013. The one-day event featured energy experts, policy makers, academic and regional political leaders discussing developments in petroleum and natural gas technology, their effect on the local economy and the workforce needs of the industry. The event was partially funded by an economic grant from Chevron. In addition, the foundation sold 42 tables to the event at $2,500 a table. The event ended up paying for itself—with some money left over to fund similar events in the future.

"From a financial point of view, [the event] gave us arms-length access to a plethora of individuals in the industry," Horn-Bunk says. "There were so many people who said that they want to be involved with Taft College because we did this."

As a result of the event's success, the foundation is hosting a series of three smaller round table events discussing the local petroleum and natural gas industry. Horn-Bunk is using the exposure to encourage other companies in the region to join the Petroleum Partners Club, an industry group providing support for further academic and philanthropic programming via the Taft College Foundation. The club offers the foundation a new pool of individuals to solicit not only for donations but also as potential speakers and instructors.

Horn-Bunk encourages other community college leaders to look at business and industry in their region for potential opportunities for public-private partnerships.

"You have to find out about your local business leaders and what they're all about," she says. "It's about asking, ‘What are your challenges? What would you like to see us, as an educational institution, do for you?'"

This article is from the February 2014 issue of the Community College Advancement News.

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