Your current browser is not supported. We built with the latest technology to bring you a better experience. To view, we recommend using the latest version of Chrome, Safari or Firefox. 


Community colleges and technical programs changing perspectives and direction

Learning demands are growing. Economic and community pressures are driving change at an unprecedented rate. Can learning environments keep up?

Community colleges and CTE programs are agile by their very nature. They have to adjust quickly to meet changing learning needs. And their interiors need to keep up.  With programs geared to high-demand jobs, current technology in the learning environment is key. The space itself also needs to accommodate new learning pathways. Today, the pressure to adapt is greater than ever:


The canary in the coalmine

The state of California is often a microcosm within the US, where changes can ripple across the country. As soon as 2025, the state is facing a worker shortage – and a big one at that. Based on information from the California Department of Finance, the state is facing a shortage of 1.5 million workers with “some college education”. Meaning more than high school, but not necessarily a four-year degree. Extrapolate that across the country, and there is a massive need at hand.

Adapting to close the gap

To close the gap, education institutions are adapting their programs. There’s a shift towards building skills that support meaningful careers after college. To meet existing demands in the marketplace. And these programs are different than you might think. Community colleges, along with career and technical education programs (CTEs), are often associated with the “dirt-beneath-your-fingernails” kind of jobs. That’s not necessarily the case anymore. While some students still want to get their hands dirty, CTEs could lead to a variety of roles. A position at a clothing design studio, a pastry kitchen, global trade and logistics, advanced manufacturing, even water and environmental science. Roles that support the industries of today and the demands of an evolving work world. These programs lead to well-paying jobs and improve social mobility in the community.

The renewed popularity of so-called career education programs marks a shift away from the idea that all students should get a liberal-arts education

Michelle Hackman, The Wall Street Journal

In some cases, the transformation from traditional education structures is massive. Companies including Volkswagen, Tesla and CVS are developing programs directly with high schools. These programs will help students move directly into the work force2. Do not pass go, get straight to collecting dollars.

Perceptions are shifting

As CTEs change and grow, the perception around them is also evolving. Students are becoming disenchanted with the idea of carrying massive debt after graduation. Unfortunately, this is a reality with many four-year programs. While external trends are influencing enrollment, some institutions are working to shift the perspectives too. There’s been a long-standing stigma around vocational training. But efforts are underway to demonstrate that career education can prepare students for jobs that are in demand. And graduate with less debt-load. The California Community College system is undergoing a $6 million public relations effort. They are rebranding career and technical education.

CTE is not just preparation for low-paying jobs or geeky, computer-oriented gigs, but a path that includes a range of well-paid, collaborative, hands-on fields

Scott Carlson, The Chronicle of Higher Education
Health Careers Training Center at UNM Taos Health Careers Training Center at UNM Taos

Environments that support new programs

When you’re teaching the latest and greatest, you need a space that keeps up. Students want a functional space that supports their studies. Surrounded by the latest technology they’re learning to leverage. And designed for today’s teaching and learning styles.

Health sciences is one area with surging enrollment. Mitchell College in North Carolina receives twice as many applications as they can accept. This is leading them to build a $12 million health science center to support the program and their students.

The University of New Mexico – Taos was facing an exodus of students leaving to study health sciences in bigger markets like Albuquerque. To keep local talent in Taos, they invested in creating a new Health Careers Training Center within an existing building. State-of-the-art learning labs built with DIRTT give students a chance to learn in an environment that’s as close to the real thing as possible. And the school is ready to adjust to whatever the needs of the school are going to be in the future.

Functional learning spaces Functional learning spaces

But how can schools keep up?

These changes in programs – and the needs of learning environments – are happening fast. A space that can adapt quickly and meet changing needs is vital. Integration with the latest technology. Flexible spaces that meet new purposes. New layouts. New functions. New design. And likely before the start of the next semester.  

One post-secondary school in Canada is working with DIRTT to reconstruct an entire department. And they’re doing it before the start of the school year. After a devastating fire, the school was left with just weeks to design and rebuild the department. With manufactured construction, they’re opening in time for the fall semester.


DIRTT makes it easy to update technology in any space – quickly and with zero mess. Just as easily, the entire space can adapt and change for the latest program needs. Supporting the expanding needs of learning institutions.

Sources and further reading on the trend:

  1. The Chronicle of Higher Education: Ads Spell Out What Career and Technical Education Really Is – and Who It’s For
  2. The Wall Street Journal: Vocational Training Is Back as Firms Pair With High Schools to Groom Workers
  3. Community College Review: 7 Trends in Community Colleges
  4. Public Policy Institute of California: California’s Need for Skilled Workers
  5. The Chronicle of Higher Education: A Community College, Deeply Rooted, Evolves to Survive
  6. Inside Higher Ed: The Ultimate College Teaming Up in Houston

Betsy Maddox

Betsy leads education-focused initiatives at DIRTT. She brings 20+ years of experience in the industry as a design and construction pro. Betsy helps educators adapt to changing learning needs by building better.


DIRTT Environmental Solutions uses its 3D software to create prefabricated interiors. Each space is tailored to our clients' needs. Manufacturing facilities are located in Phoenix, Savannah and Calgary. DIRTT works with nearly 100 construction partners globally. DIRTT trades on Nasdaq under the symbol “DRTT” and on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the symbol “DRT”.