|A.||Programming Outside of Traditional Semester Framework
During the Community and Business and Industry forums, much discussion took place surrounding the need to think about education delivery differently. With the presence of for-profit educators and online degree options, it was thought that perhaps the traditional 2 or 4-year degree and diploma carry different value than in the past. In other words, there seems to be an interest in educating the community’s workforce and creating productive employees without undue weight placed on whether the resulting product is a degree. Many employers and community members expressed interest in the Colleges offering classes that do not necessarily adhere to the traditional semester framework. More accelerated classes were suggested as an option. Short of sharing the illusive silver bullet, forum participants urge a reexamination of the higher education model to address astronomical costs and resulting marketability of graduates.
|B.|| "Community College" Stigma
Nationwide, college students are increasingly choosing community colleges as the smart economic choice considering the rise in tuition and high cost of room and board at four-year institutions.2 With that shift comes a challenge for community colleges to deliver more to the high school graduate demographic. Some community colleges are positioning themselves to look and feel more like a four-year institution complete with housing, athletics, student centers and more. Slowly, the "stigma" associated with a community college as being “Plan B” or “for kids who can’t make it at a four-year institution” is changing.3 Forum participants acknowledged that EICC College facilities are not to the level of the "mini four-year institutions." For example, with the exception of MCC, housing is not readily available for students. Forum participants asked whether changes could be made to EICC facilities to become more appealing to more students looking for an option to the expense (and distance from home) associated with attending a four-year institution for all four (or more) years.
It was noted that many strategic efforts will be required to impact the stigma issue including re-branding, facility enhancement, marketing, community partnerships, parental engagement and K-12 relationships. The stigma issue rose to the top as a key concern among all constituents and one that EICC must address for its future success, area students educational success and financial sustainability for families.
|C.|| K-12 Relationships
Much discussion focused on EICC’s relationship with K-12 institutions. More specifically, every stakeholder group (i.e., employees, community leaders, business and industry) feels strongly that there should be a seamless process for high school students to obtain college credit from their area community college. In addition, the high school students obtaining credit from an EICC college should be aware of EICC’s involvement. There is an impression that even if high school students are obtaining college level credit, they may not be aware that such credit is from an EICC college. Why does this matter? Participants believe that increasing awareness about the community college and its value to ALL students, not just those who “can’t go to a four-year school” is imperative to address the stigma associated with enrollment at a community college.
Other discussion surrounding K-12 touched on the availability (or not) of vocational / trades training in high school. Again, there is an impression – and perhaps a reality – that there is little to no exposure to the trades in high school. This change at the high school level may contribute to the decreasing interest in or awareness about the viability of careers in the trades. Forum participants believe that an increased, partnered focus on the viability of careers in manufacturing, health care and technology may encourage more high school students to identify an education and career path in those fields at an earlier point in their development. And more importantly than the timing of that identification, it is believed that it would be “better” if high school students are excited about the prospect of a well-paid, non-outsourceable career with growth-potential as opposed to falling backwards into their career path after failing to be successful in attempting a four-year degree.
|D.|| Learning Communities
Across the board, forum participants feel strongly that a community college should foster a “lifelong learning community,” meaning that community colleges are uniquely suited to offer speaker forums / series, maintain lifelong learning options for non-degree seeking citizens and engage the community on intellectual issues. When asked about the core mission of a community college, this notion of facilitating “leaning communities” was always mentioned.
|E.|| Leadership Development
Community leaders identified the need for developing leadership talent as a large segment of the population reaches retirement age. Many wonder what role EICC can play in the development of the region’s young leaders for service to the community and leadership in the workplace. Employers expressed interest in partnering with EICC to further develop their current employee base skill set related to leadership and management. However, this interest in partnership demands innovation on the part of EICC to deliver a product that exceeds what employers can create internally.
|F.||High Demand Careers
During the community forums, there was an interesting diversity of opinion when asked to identify the “high demand” careers, what careers are fading away and what new careers are coming. We heard everything from a desire to focus on international marketing to air traffic control. Of specific concern, there seems to be misunderstanding about why the Colleges are not able to handle the current demand for nursing. Community members perceive high demand from students (i.e., long waitlist to get into the nursing program), a huge need in our communities for skilled nurses and the Colleges’ inability to increase capacity to meet the demand. However, other than nursing, no consensus exists from the community forums about what key career directions deserve attention. There was a consensus that community colleges should strive to find the right fit for individual students rather than offer the “hottest” new career training (e.g., forensics / CSI careers) that may not result in a marketable degree.