Centenary University at Ideal Institute expands college opportunities for vocational students in South Jersey

Centenary University‘s newest work-based college program is providing opportunities through a partnership with Ideal Institute of Technology.

The Hackettstown-based institution recently launched classes onsite at Ideal Institute’s Pleasantville location. The partnership offers a clear pathway for vocational students to continue their education and earn a Bachelor of Arts in communication, with a concentration in radio and television or film studies; Bachelor of Science in cybersecurity; Bachelor of Science in business administration: accounting; or Bachelor of Science in computer science.

Taryn Thompson.

For Pleasantville resident Taryn Thompson, the opportunity is a lifeline to success. His journey to college has been anything but traditional. Losing his parents at age 5, he started a downward spiral that led to a life on the streets, and, eventually, incarceration.

“Opportunities for me were real limited,” said Thompson, who became a father at just 15. “The streets were the only opportunity my community provided for me.”

The program provides vocational training and a salary to students seeking career opportunities.

One of the first graduates of Ideal Institute, Thompson used his vocational training to begin building a career, first in carpentry and construction, and later as co-owner of a food truck business and as an Ideal Institute impact liaison providing guidance to current students: “Without Ideal, I honestly don’t even know where I would be. Now, I’m showing people that their second chance is right in front of them.”

Centenary University President Dale Caldwell said the university’s partnership with Ideal Institute represents a shift in higher education, with a broader emphasis on providing transformational educational programs beyond those serving traditional college-age students.

Caldwell noted that, often, people facing challenges such as poverty, homelessness and pervasive crime lack clear channels and financial resources to consider higher education.

“As a society, we need to think about the privileges we have and sharing those privileges with others,” he said. “Colleges and universities need to adapt their programs to a broader educational audience. At Centenary, we’ve launched an ‘Innovative Education for Everyone’ approach. Many Centenary students didn’t think they could go to college. They’re working two, and sometimes three, jobs. Yet when they graduate, they’re superstars.”

This year, Centenary launched “Centenary Now: The Campaign for College & Opportunity for Everyone,” an $8 million capital campaign to provide affordable educational opportunities for all students, whether they are traditional day session students, working adults or those facing societal obstacles to earning a college degree.

Within that context, the university this year has introduced a new Working Degree Program providing discounted tuition to working adults; launched the Centenary University Human Performance Center with a series of short-course, noncredit learning programs to foster intellectual growth, emotional competence and career success for high school and college students, athletes, coaches, parents, veterans and career professionals; and awarded new scholarships to first-generation and economically challenged students.

The university’s emphasis on boosting opportunity for first-gen and nontraditional students dovetails with the mission of Ideal Institute, founder Ren Parikh said.

Noting that Ideal Institute has referred 20 students to Centenary so far, Parikh said: “I strongly believe that if we make college affordable, accessible and achievable, then, college can be for everybody. We as a society shouldn’t take that option away. At Ideal, we have made a social impact through education, employment and entrepreneurship. We were missing that piece to provide a clear pathway to college. This partnership with Centenary University extends the learning journey of our students.”

For his part, Thompson is looking forward to starting his college classes while continuing to work, and is now encouraging his son to enroll in the program: “I want my son to go on this journey with me. My dream is for us to graduate from Centenary University together.”