The Role and Future of Community Colleges

Posted by on 01.09.14 in Community

Community colleges, in fulfilling their missions, are much more closely connected to the communities they serve than are other higher education institutions.

As intellectual, cultural and economic cornerstones, community colleges provide students of all ages with a personalized academic experience and a responsive and thorough curriculum to prepare them for jobs in today’s market.

Concurrently, community colleges meet business needs and facilitate local, regional, and national economies.  They maintain small class sizes, offer quality education, and are cost effective. Community colleges are at the forefront of assessing the success of academic programs and the students they serve.

Because of this, I firmly believe that community colleges will capture an ever-growing percentage of the higher education sector as they embark upon a bright future.  Here is why.

I subscribe to the idea that community colleges are far more than open access institutions.  They have a fiduciary responsibility in assuring that their respective communities are prepared to compete at the highest level. Simply put, offering a top notch education while taking a lead role in growing the regional economy must be the responsibility and focus of every community college.

At Muskegon Community College, for example, we established our Student Success and Completion Agenda which has three basic tenets:

  1. Every MCC student will complete a postsecondary degree or certificate enabling them to be successful in a 21st century global economy.
  2. MCC will support programs, develop networks and target high impact solutions to help our students succeed.
  3. MCC will constantly evaluate its student success initiatives and report the results of these evaluations to our students and community.

Our Student Success and Completion Agenda is not simply a series of words.  We offer supplemental instruction, accelerated programming, summits with local K-12 instructors in the areas of English, Math and Science, early intervention strategies, early college, and comprehensive behavioral intervention programming along with a full staff of professional master-level counselors.  We report to our Board of Trustees and our community on a consistent basis.

As an Achieving the Dream (AtD) college, MCC understands that ALL students deserve the opportunity to be successful.  Further, we understand that we need to drill down to support students with risk factors, such as being a first generation college student, a minority and/or economically challenged student.  Achieving the Dream is helping approximately 160 of the 1,200 colleges around the nation assist their students and communities.

At MCC, our strategies are driven not only by AtD initiatives, but by the leading thinkers on the linkage between a strong economy and an educated talent pool, such as the one outlined in Goal 2025. The Lumina Foundation established Goal 2025 to help move our nation toward achieving a lofty aim of having 60 percent of our nation’s adult population attain a college degree, certificate, or meaningful credential by the year 2025.

Lumina’s strategy for achieving this goal includes the following:

  • Build a Goal 2025 social movement to increase attainment
  • Mobilize employers and metro areas to increase attainment
  • Mobilize higher education to increase student success
  • Advance state policy for increased attainment
  • Advance federal policy for increased attainment

Moreover, leaders of the American Association of Community Colleges, the Association of Community College Trustees, the League for Innovation, the Center for Community College Student Engagement, the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development, and Phi Theta signed the Democracy Colleges Call to Action Statement at AACC’s national convention on April 20, 2010.  This statement provided further support for the idea that community colleges need to move aggressively toward ensuring that our students are prepared for the demands of a 21st century economy.

To assure that MCC is headed in the right direction, we have invited external support from AtD with Dr. Kay McClenney from the Center for Community College Leadership at the University of Texas Austin, as well as from statewide colleagues such as Dr. Jenny Schanker, Associate Director of the Michigan Centre for Student Success.

Talent 2025, a regional collaborative extending the idea that a strong talent pool will lead to a successful economy, shares the goals of Lumina Foundation but with a focus on West Michigan.  In the spring of 2010, every college and university president in West Michigan gathered to forge a partnership with key regional businesses to assure that educators are preparing our students to be successful.

Talent 2025 working groups, focusing on post-secondary education and college readiness, now regularly bring together business, education, and community leaders to identify what talent is needed. The four community colleges in West Michigan are key players in these groups which help young people become successful members of the workforce. Importantly, many jobs today do not require a four-year degree but pay as much or more than one may expect to earn with a baccalaureate degree.  Organizations like Talent 2025 are vital to help our region thrive.

A common theme running throughout all these initiatives is that a broad array of educational and community resources are required to assure that our economy remains strong. Muskegon Community College is actively doing its part to assure that our community, region and nation will remain competitive and vital in the 21st century.

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