A panel of constructors watched last month as Bolduc, a 22-year-old construction management major at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, played the role of president of a fictitious company. Pretending to respond to a request for proposals for CM services on a mixed-use project, he seemed as comfortable as a seasoned veteran.

And as he and fellow student team members flawlessly handled the interview, they had command of the room. Their written proposal was just as solid, looking like the real thing. As the interview ended to a stunned hush, it was evident they had hit a grand slam. "This is as good as I've seen anywhere," said panelist Steve DeSalvo, a vice president at Dugan & Meyers Construction Co., Cincinnati.

SECRET. So why wouldn't an ENR 400 company hire Bolduc? After all, the construction industry often laments that it doesn't know where the next generation of managers will come from. And employers say that they find it harder and harder to hire quality graduates. But too many industry recruiters ignore two-year construction management programs. Why should such programs be the industry's best-kept secret?

No one can refute the argument that four-year curricula offer greater breadth and depth. But community colleges often leverage more real-world experience. Contrary to the belief that community college students aren't smart enough to succeed in four-year programs, many of them in CM are quite knowledgeable, with several years of construction experience. They bring a real-world perspective to the classroom.

Scott Bressler, a night student in my CM program, completed Construction Management 1 while working full- time as a project manager for Westchester Township in Cincinnati. As he led the design and construction of a multimillion-dollar park and pavilion for the township, he used the value engineering from that project as the basis of his final class presentation.

And besides bringing valuable real-world experience, many students come to two-year technical programs with previous four-year degrees in business or liberal arts. At my college, about 20% of our graduates have other degrees.

Whatever their backgrounds, most of the nation's two-year students are "nontraditional," returning to or starting college as adults. Many of them tried and quit four-year programs. When they finally returned to school, they chose less expensive two-year programs, often to save time and money. They bring with them a level of maturity and determination not seen in younger students. They work hard. And they have great attitudes and ideas, and the confidence that comes with age and experience. With an average age of 27, they challenge the faculty because they want to learn, and because they want their money's worth.

Many community colleges offer excellent value. Some even offer more cutting-edge material than four-year programs. Generally smaller, more nimble and more autonomous than bureaucratic four-year programs, two-year programs often respond more quickly to industry needs with curricula changes.

Some critics argue that two-year college faculty lack the "appropriate" academic credentials, since many of us do not perform research. However, we often serve as consultants to industry. That way we stay current, to ensure that what we teach is up-to-date and relevant.

And thanks to college support, two-year programs often have budgets that, per student, are larger than that of their four-year counterparts. That enables us to purchase more advanced technology sooner.

My program was the first undergraduate program in the U.S. to take advantage of global positioning systems, in 1990. And in 1985, mine was the first in the region to teach computer-aided drafting, estimating, and scheduling. Now our advanced cad course incorporates 3-D software to let students make "fly-bys" of land-development projects.

RIGOR. University faculty have visited my program to learn what we're doing in the classroom. Many of them come away realizing that we offer as much academic rigor as many four-year CM programs. The CM major at Cincinnati State incorporates more math and physics than many four-year CM programs. And mine is the only program in the country, two-year or four-year, to hold both of the two possible kinds of construction education accreditation: abet and acce.

Many of my students go on to earn bachelor's degrees. But despite the quality of our students, two-year CM programs are ignored by much of the industry. Associated General Contractors of America lists four-year but not two-year programs on its Website. ENR overlooked us, too, in its recent report on construction education (ENR 10/29 p. 26).

Fortunately, at least one ENR Top 400 contractor is paying attention to us. A representative of Turner Construction Co., which traditionally hires only graduates from four-year programs, came to watch Boldoc's presentation. I just wish that other upper-echelon firms would take a look at the nation's two-year CM students as well.

John W. Buttelwerth directs one of the nation's largest two-year construction management majors, in civil engineering technology, at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College.
He may be e-mailed at johnb@cinstate.cc.oh.us.

Justin D. Bolduc isn't "A-list" material at most ENR Top 400 construction firms. Why? Because most of their recruiters won't hire from two-year schools. But they really should take a look at him and my other students.