Most community colleges offer the standard fare of business, science, humanities and vocational curricula, but certain two-year institutions also offer highly specialized degree programs designed to train students for niche professions. From colleges in Indiana, Ohio and other Midwestern states to the coast, here are five of the most wonderfully unique two-year degree programs available today.
1. Farrier Science and Business
Hocking College — Nelsonville, Ohio
Dedicated to training the next generation of horse hoof-care specialists, this program is one of just a small handful of farrier science associate degree programs in the U.S. This two-year degree requires a mix of courses in horse handling, horseshoeing, leathercraft, equine health and nutrition, gait analysis, accounting, equine business and employment.
"Usually the students that are in that program solely, they're leaving here with the intent of being a sole proprietorship" and going into business for themselves, says Heath Harter, an instructor in Hocking College's equine program.
Farrier Science is one of three equine programs offered through Hocking, the other two being Wilderness Horsemanship and Equine Health and Complimentary Therapies. Harter says that in addition to earning a Farrier Science degree, students oftentimes also take courses or earn certificates in the school's other equine programs. Luckily, there are plenty of four-footed classmates to train with since the Hocking campus is home to more than 50 horses.
2. Food and Wine Pairing
South Seattle Community College — Seattle, Washington
Don't be fooled by the title — this degree program encompasses far more than just wine pairing, says Regina Daigneault, wine technology coordinator for South Seattle Community College. Only available to students over age 21, this program includes coursework on the science of winemaking, wine history and culture, marketing and sales, grape cultivation, sensory evaluation and wine appreciation.
"That would help them with jobs, for instance, being a wine director, a sommelier, a wine steward in a wine shop, or managing a wine shop or in a grocery store …," Daigneault says.
South Seattle Community College also maintains partnerships with local cruise companies who bring students aboard to lead pairing demonstrations and teach workshops on how wine is made. Students who are interested in the industry should ask to sit in on a class, according to Daigneault. They can also research job options by visiting the school's WorkSource career center, attending tastings and asking about information on volunteer or internship opportunities in the field.
3. Social and Digital Media Communications
Indian Hills Community College — Ottumwa, Iowa
This degree covers three basic areas of study: graphic design, web development and online marketing. The program focuses on teaching students how to leverage social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and SnapChat to meet the needs and goals of a business.
"We focus a lot on web metrics and analytics as well, measuring the success of your social campaign," says Alex Goerdt, an instructor in the Social and Digital Media Communications program. That includes teaching students how to drive traffic back to a company's website and how to figure out which social platform can get your message to customers most effectively.
The business community's increasing reliance on social media only means good things for Indian Hills graduates. A survey by Constant Contact shows that 87 percent of small businesses use social media marketing to push their products and services. After turning the tassel, Social and Digital Media Communications grads will be prepared to work in small businesses, ad agency or break out on their own and go freelance, Goerdt says.
4. Natural and Historical Interpretation
Hocking College — Nelsonville, Ohio
You can find them leading nature walks, helping students identify constellations or making history come alive. Finding jobs in museums, zoos, nature centers, historical sites and living history re-enactment organizations, interpreters work in "nonformal education" settings and specialize in "connecting a visitor to an experience or place of significance," says Kenneth Bowald, dean of the School of Natural Resources at Hocking College.
Hocking's Natural and Historical Interpretation curriculum is a mishmash of environmental education, science, guide technique and interpretation courses, and the academic work is supplemented by the opportunity to get hands-on education by leading workshops through the school's Nature and Raptor Rehab Center and portable planetarium. Hocking students also do a bit of traveling. To see interpretation in action, students visit sites throughout Ohio, Michigan and Indiana during their program of study.
5. Bowling Industry Management and Technology
Vincennes University — Vincennes, Indiana
Vincennes is the only school in the country to offer this degree program, and that gives graduates a leg up in the field, according to Gary Sparks, an assistant professor of bowling industry management at Vincennes.
"[Employability] is pretty high," he says. "... The industry doesn't have a lot of places to pull from where students have the bowling background along with the business."
Bowling management students spend the first year learning the technical end of the trade, including the mechanics of pin setting and lane machines. The second year focuses on the managerial side, covering topics like basic accounting, customer service, budgeting, scheduling and food sanitation. After graduation, students may go on to run their own bowling centers, but they may also go into repair, pro shop operations, mechanical maintenance or bowling-related business, Sparks says.
"We're placing a lot of graduates in sales and marketing positions both with distributors, those businesses that sell products and parts and things like that to the bowling centers, and also with manufacturers, the people who make parts and lanes and bowling balls," he adds.
- Kenneth Bowald, Dean of the School of Natural Resources at Hocking College, Interviewed by the author, June 12, 2014
- "Small Business: Then & Now," Constant Contact, May 2013,
- Regina Daigneault, Wine Studies Coordinator at South Seattle Community College, Interviewed by the author, June 10, 2014
- Alex Goerdt, Indian Hills Community College Instructor, Interviewed by the author, June 11, 2014
- Heath Harter, Hocking College Instructor, Interviewed by the author, June 12, 2014
- Equine Health & Complementary Therapies Program, Hocking College,
- Farrier Science and Business Program, Hocking College,
- Natural & Historical Interpretation Program, Hocking College,
- Wilderness Horsemanship Program, Hocking College,
- Social and Digital Media Communications, Indian Hills Community College,
- Wine Industry: Food & Wine Pairing, South Seattle Community College,
- WorkSource, South Seattle Community College,
- Gary Sparks, Assistant Professor at Vincennes University, Interviewed by the author, June 10, 2014
- Bowling Industry Management and Technology, Vincennes University,
- Course Catalog: Bowling Industry Management and Technology, Vincennes University,