Where Industry and Education are One
Central Connecticut State University’s Construction Management Program
Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) might be the state’s oldest public university, but with programs like construction management, it remains as relevant as ever. It addresses current workforce needs in the construction industry by developing the next generation of construction management professionals.
The Department of Manufacturing and Construction Management is part of the School of Engineering, Science and Technology and was established in 2001. Since that time, it has grown in terms of faculty, resources and programs. In 2007-2008, a graduate degree in construction management was launched, and more growth is on the horizon.
In 2008, the construction market suffered a downturn associated with the start of the recession, causing a drop in enrollment. As the market recovered from the economic downturn, so too did program enrollment. Dr. Jacob P. Kovel, Associate Professor of Construction Management, explained, “Since the downturn in 2008, we’ve been getting back up to where we were prior to that, and now the demand for our students has increased dramatically since 2008.
“At that point, our students were still being recruited by companies, but most of them were getting one job offer, and they either took it or didn’t get into the industry. Now, we’re back to the point where most of our students are getting multiple, sometimes, two, three, four different job offers, and so the competition for those students has increased greatly.”
Graduates enjoy a ninety-five percent placement rate because of the value delivered by the program. It combines academic and hands-on experience to produce well-rounded, knowledgeable graduates who satisfy the workforce needs of the local market.
The program is recognized for its relevant course content which includes project scheduling, estimating and management. It integrates the latest in materials, technology and safety methods. Students are well-prepared for careers in construction management and repeatedly demonstrate the exceptional value of the program on job sites nationwide.
“The success of our graduates is probably the thing that drives enrollment more than anything else. Our students go out there; they get jobs; they do great work with their colleagues, and the people who work with them all see that,” explained Dr. Kovel.
Graduates of the construction management program attract the attention of numerous regional and national construction firms that are based in Connecticut. Dr. Kovel cited examples like Turner, Gilbane and Whiting-Turner that undertake projects nationwide but have offices locally.
The program is nationally accredited by the American Council for Construction Education (ACCE) and recently underwent the reaccreditation process. “That is part of doing business as far as we’re concerned. Maintaining national accreditation is very important in our field,” Dr. Kovel noted.
In addition to being ACCE accredited, the program ranked second on Best Value Schools’ list of fifty best programs in the United States. The school was acknowledged for its accreditation, rates of enrollment and graduation and price, the best value it offers is its relevance and ability to address the industry’s changing workforce needs.
One of the most significant changes in the industry is the progression of technology and the increased demand for technologically-shrewd students. Dr. Kovel explained the importance of developing a curriculum around the most innovative technologies that are significantly changing how construction takes place.
“Technology has changed the way we look at things, and today, students have to be a bit more technology savvy than in the past. We’ve gone away from what we call the traditional blueprint. It’s long gone,” he said.
“The sets of plans that are out there are still hard copy,” said Dr. Kovel, “but more and more we’re seeing them digitized on iPads, laptops and even phones where you can look at a small section of the drawing in the field.”
Cloud and internet-based programs are also having an impact on the construction industry by improving both communication and efficiency. Technological innovations like these give construction professionals the ability to communicate with designers and project owners in real time.
To improve the program’s reach, CCSU is working to strengthen the bond between community colleges and the construction management program. “Community colleges can provide a direct feed and have their students transfer with no loss of credits and basically two years of work completed, so they only need two more years to get their bachelor’s degree,” he said.
He said that if the President’s State of the Union address was indicative of the future of construction, infrastructure investment will cause a higher demand for those with the skills the construction management program gives. While the call for construction management professionals has grown, enrollment remains steady.
“We’re very stable right now as far as enrollment goes. We’re up maybe two or three percent since the last time we talked in 2017, but the trend we’ve been on is a very shallow slope upwards. There haven’t been any real big jumps in a long time, but we’ve had this small, steady increase in enrollment,” said Dr. Kovel.
“We can’t bring in fifty more students because that would just overwhelm our resources, so what we’re looking for, both near term and long term, is a steady growth at a small percentage every year to build up,” he explained. This will also support CCSU with its overall growth objectives.
“The university would ultimately like to add a total of about twenty to twenty-five percent more students total, and we would like to add that same twenty to twenty-five percent, but we’re not going to add it all at once. The program plans to grow enrollment over the next five to ten years while maintaining service and education quality.”
One of the objectives of the construction management program is to bolster its endowment, which will help secure a sustainable future for the program.
“As the state cuts back their support of higher education, we have to find another way to support higher education, and our program has to do that with our endowment. We’d like to add $20,000 to $40,000 a year to that endowment to continue to grow it until it becomes sufficient so that if the state does ever decide that they aren’t going to fund us, we would be able to fund ourselves,” said Dr. Kovel.
Course and program objectives are continually evaluated to ensure they remain relevant at both the bachelor and graduate levels. A doctorate in construction management is under development and could help address the need for qualified faculty to sustain program growth. While a doctorate is not required in the field, it is a necessary part of academic program delivery.
“We’re doing a faculty search right now, and the response to the position has been underwhelming. Not nearly as many people have applied for the job as we thought, so it’s been very difficult to get new faculty, and that’s an issue. Our needs, as far as faculty goes, require somebody with both education and experience in the field,” explained Dr. Kovel. Most applicants have one or the other, but not both.
CCSU is an academic entity with a responsibility to address the needs of industry, and its construction management program relies heavily on its industry advisory board. The board engages industry leaders in developing relevant curriculum and deepening industry relationships.
“We’re continually expanding our relationships with local industry. Every year, we add two or three companies who become regulars at our career fairs and post internships and full-time jobs. We add new companies every semester,” said Dr. Kovel.
The industry advisory board is comprised of eighteen members including government representatives from the Department of Transportation and the Department of Administrative Services, as well as leadership from the Associated General Contractors (AGC) and Associated Builders and Contractors, which represent union and non-union contractors.
Other members include diverse industry stakeholders like suppliers, subcontractors, general contractors, construction managers and legal firms. This connection between industry and the program is vital to its success.
The industry advisory board also cosponsors the construction management program’s annual alumni dinner, which is an opportunity to recognize outstanding graduates and supporters of the construction industry, as well as fundraising for the program’s endowment. Industry relationships support academic success and create career paths for students upon graduating.
National trends indicate that an education in construction management that integrates technology in its curriculum will be necessary for success in the construction industry for some time. Dr. Kovel hopes that more students begin to see the value that is offered at CCSU.
“If students did their homework, their research, before picking a major in college, we would see more in our program,” Dr. Kovel suspects. “As the industry gets more technologically oriented, particularly at the management end, more value is added to a program that graduates students with the base of knowledge, and some of this tech-oriented knowledge is just not available on the job site,” he says.
“A lot of what is needed is just student motivation, because there are a lot of thingsthat we can teach. But there are a lot of things that students have to learn and develop on their own, and if they are motivated, they can do it, and if not, it’s just like any other academic program.”