When four community colleges decided to come together with the aim of offering new opportunities for their communities, the Rural Information Technology Alliance (RITA) was born.
“We wanted to pool the expertise and resources at all our colleges to prepare students for workforce success in the high-demand information technology areas of IT , including networking, mobile applications, and cybersecurity,” says Michael Olesen, director of the RITA Consortium.
The four-college consortium of Central Lakes College, North Central Texas College, Pine Technical and Community College, and Ridgewater College submitted a proposal for a federal funding through the Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant program.
The proposal took a comprehensive perspective on the delivery of educational offerings to address the growing need in rural communities for skilled information technology professionals.
“We built an innovative model that takes into account the many factors that will help students prepare for career opportunities in fields that support the economic development of our communities,” says Olesen.
The Department of Labor recognized the potential of that model when its Employment and Training Administration awarded the grant to the RITA Consortium. As a result, the consortium began work to implement the model at all four colleges.
“We are developing and expanding a range of IT programs that are available at all colleges, either on site, online, or a combination of both,” says Olesen. The RITA Consortium also means the availability of key information technology resources at each campus:
• Each campus will house a Cisco Academy, with classrooms that will include all the technology, switches, routers, and other hardware and software to train students for different Cisco certifications.
• Each campus will become a Microsoft IT Academy with equipment to train students in software development and network technology skills that lead to different certifications. Microsoft is a partner with the consortium on the academies.
“Colleges also are leveraging existing resources and building new ones to strengthen the educational experience, says Olesen. “We are using innovative instructional approaches and technology to enhance learning and convenience.”
For students, that means more flexibility and options in pursuing their education.
Whether through the development of new courses, emphasis on practical learning, student support and placement, the RITA Consortium is opening significant possibilities for students, says Olesen.
The RITA Consortium builds on the strengths of each of its member colleges. As two-year community and technical colleges, each college in the consortium offers diversity in offerings. Here’s a quick snapshot at each college in the RITA Consortium.
• Central Lakes College (CLC)
Central Lakes College has two state-of-the-art campuses in Brainerd, Minnesota, and Staples, Minnesota. Known for its cutting-edge courses in health and information technology, Central Lakes College offers more than 70 programs.
• North Central Texas College (NCTC)
Offering a range of liberal arts and technical programs, North Central Texas College serves three counties in Texas – Cooke, Denton, and Montague with Gainseville as its main campus and two full-service campuses and two branch campuses.
• Pine Technical and Community College (PTCC)
With a campus in Pine City, Minnesota, Pine Technical and Community College offers a diversity of programs. Its use of telecommunications and other distance education tools serve as a national model for colleges and universities.
• Ridgewater College
Ridgewater excels in onsite and offsite learning, with campuses in Willmar and Hutchinson, Minnesota, and a number of online associate degrees. It offers more than 40 degree programs.