Using a combination of online courses and a comprehensive process for granting credit for prior learning, the nation’s first associate degree in Highway Maintenance Management will soon be available to students across the country.

Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and Front Range Community College (FRCC) have teamed up to develop the first-in-the-nation two-year Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Highway Maintenance Management degree program. This program is designed to help employees meet the demands of the future while earning post-secondary credentials. The AAS degree, which is scheduled to begin in January 2019, is geared for highway maintenance supervisors and those wishing to advance in the organization or to be better prepared for supervisory positions.

Robert McArthur, Douglas County Public Works Department and Colorado Local Technical Assistance Program Roadmaster, observes that “It has become significantly apparent that the need to streamline Highway Maintenance Management training is long overdue. From the beginning it was clear that this AAS degree program is the opportunity to funnel appropriate education and technical industry training through a single portal, setting the stage for combining practical experience with standardized management instruction, offered online nationwide.”

Although initiated by CDOT’s Division of Highway Maintenance, the program has been crafted with input from members of the American Public Works Association (Colorado Chapter), leadership from the Colorado Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP), and leaders from a variety of local Colorado public works agencies. The AAS degree is relevant to state, county, and municipal public works agencies as well as public sector companies involved in the maintenance of roads and bridges.

Demand for this degree is expected to be high. To give an idea of the potential within the state, there are approximately 8,000 public works employees responsible for road and bridge maintenance across all municipalities. If just 1% of incumbent workers were to enroll in the program, that would equate to 80 students from this state alone. Realistically, it is predicted that 5% or more will enroll in the Highway Maintenance Management degree program eventually, equating to 400 students. This does not even take into account young recruits or interest from other states.

The AAS degree features general education and management courses, as well as required and elective highway maintenance and operations courses. All the required General Education and Management courses will be available online, providing the flexibility of learning anywhere, any time, and any place. Because all the required General Education and Management courses are online and the required highway maintenance credits are earned through industry-provided training and certifications, participants can come from any corner of Colorado as well as the nation to enroll in and complete the AAS in Highway Maintenance Management program at FRCC. Participants will also have the option to complete the courses at one of FRCC’s campuses located in three counties in Colorado.

All the required and elective highway maintenance credits are earned through Prior Learning Assessment (PLA). PLA is the process for evaluating knowledge and skills to award college credit for learning from (1) work experience; (2) training courses and/or certifications; (3) on-the-job training; (4) military training and voluntary service; and (5) independent study. PLA credit can be earned by passing a knowledge examination (challenge test), demonstrating a skill, and/or providing satisfactory documentation from a recognized industry partner and/or subject matter expert. Demonstrated evidence of mastery of knowledge and skills is needed to earn PLA credit. PLA credit can account for up to 45 of the required 60 credit hours for graduation.

FRCC will be evaluating industry-provided training and certifications to determine how well they match the learning objectives of the required and elective highway maintenance courses. Industry-provided training and certifications that sufficiently meet course learning objectives may lead to academic credit for a course. A few of the key industry partners providing relevant training and certifications that may earn credit toward the AAS degree include American Public Works Association, Local Technical Assistance Programs (LTAP), and the National Highway Institute (Federal Highway Administration).

Renee Railsback, Director of Colorado Local Technical Assistance Program, states that “Colorado LTAP is excited for local agency employees that may not have previously attended college to finally have this opportunity to get a leg up in the industry. Two great examples of possible PLA credit could be from completing APWA’s Public Works Institute (PWI) or LTAP’s Roads Scholar programs. APWA and LTAP are working with FRCC on requirements for accepting credit from graduates of these training programs.”

Jean Runyon, Ph.D., Vice President of Front Range Community College-Larimer Campus, notes that “As outlined in our College’s mission statement, ‘We will be recognized for our singular focus on student success, our exceptional teaching, our strong commitment to diverse learners and communities, and our effective business and community partnerships.’ This partnership with CDOT and the Colorado public works industry demonstrates our commitment to strong partnerships to ensure that individuals have the skills that will help them build successful careers and successful communities.”