Commencement Puts Focus on Jobs

Eighteen area high school students will don caps and gowns and cross the stage at Harper College this weekend, picking up a career-boosting college credential before they even complete their senior year.

The students are among the 2013 recipients of the Certified Nursing Assistant credential, a potential precursor to health care studies that qualifies them for jobs now and offers a jump start on higher education.

About 170 high school students - including two 16-year-olds - will earn the credential this academic year through a growing Harper dual credit program that allow high school students to amass college credit at no cost to them.

"They get out of high school, and they're already completely trained for this career," says Elizabeth Pagenkopf, who heads up the CNA program and has watched recipients go on to success in Harper's Nursing program and beyond.

The trend will be reflected in remarks from Dr. Jane Oates, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Employment and Training Administration and this year's commencement speaker. Oates oversees a national effort to design and deliver training and employment programs for America's workers, with a focus on good jobs in good industries.

In all, more than 3,500 students are receiving degrees or certificates this academic year. Among them are 14 recipients of a new manufacturing certificate launched by Harper last fall with an eye on training students for high-tech jobs in an industry short on skilled workers.

Hundreds of graduates will continue their studies at other institutions - from a fellowship in Germany to the campus of the University of California - this fall.

The commencement ceremony is at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 18 between Parking Lot 1 and the baseball fields on the main campus, 1200 W. Algonquin Road in Palatine.