Reviving the American Dream through Education

As you know, it is my philosophy that every student’s dream matters. I believe the role of Lorain County Community College is to help our students achieve their dreams – no matter what the student’s challenges are.

As we prepared for the start of spring semester, our campus hosted David Dodson, president of MDC, Inc. and a leading figure in the research of social and economic mobility. Dodson hosted sessions for both our campus faculty and staff, as well as with key community stakeholders. He began each session with the simple question, “Do you believe that where a person is born should determine where they end up in life?”

The question seemed simple enough. Of course, where a person begins their life should not define where they end up. And yet, that’s exactly what we are faced with here in Northeast Ohio and in many other areas around the country.  In fact, a child born in Lorain County to a family with an income in the bottom 20 percent has only a five percent chance of making it to the top of the income ladder by the time they reach adulthood. A five percent chance. That statistic stopped me in my tracks. If social and economic mobility is the American Dream, then the American Dream is in serious jeopardy right here in Lorain County.

See the map and full data on the Equality of Opportunity Project website.

Thankfully, a college degree can be the golden ticket out of poverty. According to research by the Pew Charitable Trust, earning a post-secondary credential dramatically lessens the chances that a person born at the bottom will remain at the bottom. Without a college degree, there is a 47 percent chance the person will stay stuck in the bottom half of income distribution. By earning a college degree, the likelihood of remaining at the bottom shrinks to just 10 percent. Read the Pew Charitable Trusts’ full report on economic mobility.

Lorain County Community College was founded to serve the community and provide access to higher education for Lorain County. These statistics on social mobility drive home more than ever the importance that all people in our county must have an equitable opportunity to achieve their goals through higher education – regardless of their race, age or economic position.

And while there is a long way to go, we have made great progress in recent years in helping local people access the education needed to reach their goals and provide for a better future for their families.

In the past 25 years, degree attainment in Lorain County has risen from 19 percent of Lorain County residents with an associate degree or higher to 33 percent of residents with a degree. To achieve this 14 percent increase, we’ve revamped advising models and restructured developmental courses to better serve the needs of students and decrease the amount of time it takes to earn a degree or credential. Additionally, the College Credit Plus program at LCCC has expanded course offerings and partnerships with local school districts, leading to 43 percent of Lorain County high school seniors to graduates with college credit in 2017 – credits they earned for free.

These statistics are great, but it’s the real people behind them that matter the most. Last month, I met Thomas Smith and his father, Christopher, at the Lorain County Urban League’s holiday luncheon. Christopher is a disabled veteran and told me that he used to work at the college setting up chairs in our conference center many years ago. After working here, he became inspired to go back to school and eventually encouraged his children to earn college degrees — and did they listen! His two daughters, Parris and Chynna, earned college degrees while still in high school. Parris graduated from Lorain County Early College High School and Chynna earned two LCCC associate degrees while she was a student at Clearview High School.

I loved reconnecting with Christopher Smith, second from left, and his son Thomas, right, at the Lorain County Urban League holiday party. Dorothy Johnson, LCCC Coordinator of the Office of Inclusive Excellence, left, joined me for the event.

Thomas told me that he had been attending Cleveland State University when he needed supplemental income to support his journey. He turned to LCCC and our real estate program. He took real estate classes on weekends while going to school full time at CSU and holding down an internship. Talk about a drive to succeed! He told me, “Not everyone is made to play football or even sell houses, but we’re all meant to do something great and LCCC helps make it happen.”

The Smith family shows what can be possible when the proper supports are available to provide an equitable experience for all.  As we continue to move the needle on degree attainment, there are areas that deserve additional attention to equity – especially in helping minority and Pell eligible students complete their degrees. To ensure equity for all students, LCCC has created the Equity for Students Team (EST) to oversee and monitor the implementation priorities, strategies, and interventions that are intentional on closing the achievement gaps for students of color and underserved populations.

As we confront the obstacles hindering equity and social mobility in our county, Dodson reminded us that we may face a new set of problems – he calls these adaptive challenges – that arise as we shift away from the status quo. The answer to these challenges, he says, is community collaboration between organizations. Lorain County is home to number of outstanding organizations that work closely with LCCC.

Dr. Ballinger stands at the center of the group.
David Dodson, right, and our panelists Victor Leandry, David Hardy, Jr., and moderator Michael Collins provided great insight for our community.

During our session with Dodson, a panel of local community leaders participated in a discussion moderated by Michael Collins, vice president of Jobs for the Future. During the discussion, Cynthia Andrews, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Lorain County; Lorain El Centro Executive Director Victor Leandry and Lorain City Schools CEO David Hardy, Jr., all confirmed that residents — especially those in poverty — require connections and partnerships to succeed.

LCCC is committed to doing our part to pursue our vision of empowering a thriving a community for all. If you would like to become a part of this ongoing conversation, please visit and share your information. I look forward to hearing from you.

Creating a Hunger Free Campus

Educational institutions focus much of their energy on making sure a student is college-ready, but it’s my personal belief that a college also needs to be student-ready. We need to be prepared to help students overcome any barrier they face while creating a welcoming community that supports every learner. So, when I learned that 13.3 percent of people in our county are struggling with hunger, I knew Lorain County Community College had to do more to help students overcome this barrier.

And while more than one in 10 people dealing with hunger is far too many, data suggests that community college students experience hunger at a much higher rate. A study by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab found that hunger and food insecurity among community college students is more prevalent than previously thought – with up to 40 percent of community college students reporting that they regularly experience hunger or food insecurity. The March 2017 study surveyed more than 33,000 students at 70 community colleges in 24 states and defined food insecurity as the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or the ability to acquire such foods in a socially acceptable manner.

These statistics certainly resonate on our campus. At a recent open forum, I asked students to identify the largest barriers they face in achieving their educational goals. Hunger was one of the most frequently cited barriers and at that moment, I knew that even though we offer an on-campus food pantry, called Commodore Cupboard, we weren’t doing enough to address this crisis. Our students often have to decide between buying food or paying rent. Students should never have their academic efforts undermined by the effects of hunger. Addressing basic needs for students is vital to their degree completion and overall quality of life, and it’s our responsibility to help.

The positive side of illuminating this crisis facing many of our students is that it is sparking action. LCCC students recently decided that fighting hunger on our campus is a priority. And so, together with students and the entire campus community, we issued the #HungerFreeLCCC challenge and asked students, faculty and staff to donate food, money or volunteer time to Commodore Cupboard. Almost immediately the pledges began pouring in, demonstrating the caring community LCCC embodies.

More than 50 people in blue shirts smile.
More than 3,000 pounds of food were donated by the campus community in just a few hours during our Commodores Care Day.

Helping the college in this effort is Chicks Against Hunger, a grassroots organization, that hosts food drives and works with food pantries throughout Lorain County. The organization donated more than 450 pounds of soup to for our #HungerFreeLCCC challenge. Not long ago, I met Kim McDonald, a co-founder of Chicks Against Hunger, and she told me about her dream of creating a hunger free Lorain County. It’s my hope that our work on campus will create a ripple that spreads throughout all of Lorain County and eliminates food insecurity for everyone.

The results of the #HungerFreeLCCC challenge were unveiled during our Commodores Care Day earlier this month and I can’t tell you how proud I am of our campus. In just a few short hours, the LCCC campus donated more than 3,000 pounds of food and more than $3,700 to benefit Commodore Cupboard. An additional 28 people pledged to volunteer at least 10 hours at Commodore Cupboard to help serve students in need. These donations will go a long way to helping Commodore Cupboard expand its hours and create more a holistic approach to ending hunger on campus.

As we move into the holiday season, our campus continues to support the Commodore Cupboard. At a recent event for the LCCC Culinary Arts Institute, the donation tables overflowed with nonperishable food items for Commodore Cupboard. And I know the support will continue to grow as our campus community rises up to support students in need.

If you would like to join us in fighting hunger on campus, please donate to Commodore Cupboard at

Personal Connections Drive Student Success

Fall semester is well under way and right now more than 11,000 students are hard at work in LCCC classes. These students are bravely taking steps toward improving their quality of life, providing for their families, and pursuing their dreams. And judging by the excitement surrounding our faculty and staff this semester, our campus community is ready and willing to help all of our students succeed.

There has been a lot of buzz lately within the higher education world surrounding the phrase “student success.” At Lorain County Community College, we have identified student success as our top priority – but many of you may be asking, what does this really mean? We have learned that for our diverse student body, the term “success” can evolve during the course of a student’s life. At LCCC, we personalize our approach to each student – helping them identify their goals and define what success means to them.

There is a lot of behind the scenes work going on daily to ensure our students’ success through innovations in teaching, redesigning advising, and enhancing student services and career planning. Our recently unveiled nine academic and career pathways offer a much more streamlined and personalized approach for students that connects them to their own personal advisor from day one. But the real magic happens when our faculty and staff connect to our students on a personal level.

Take Kenneth Glynn for example. Ken spent 10 years in the United States Army and 19 years working in the steel industry before starting his higher education journey through LCCC’s SAIL (Students Accelerating in Learning) program. At first, the Elyria resident wasn’t sure about college, but with the help of SAIL assistance and his advisors’ and instructors’ support, he is well on his way to achieving his goals.

Four student pose at graduation in caps and gowns.
Kenneth Glynn, left, poses at graduation with classmates Ellen Rebok, Rona Bryner and Terrence Pride who were also laid off from the steel mill.

Ken addressed a group of LCCC faculty and staff in August where he shared that he and his classmates, including former co-workers from a steel plant who were laid off at the same time as him, simply would not have made it through math without their LCCC instructor, Carolyn Gang. Carolyn went above and beyond to assist them – even staying after class and tutoring on Saturdays to ensure they understood the material.

“I had never been exposed to any of this math before in my life. It had been 30 years since I had been in school,” Ken said. “When I was first in Mrs. Gang’s class, it was like a roller coaster ride for me. The first hill I took, I yelled and screamed and wanted to get off the ride immediately. But Mrs. Gang had a compassion for us older students in the class. Without her support and the support of the SAIL program, I never would have earned my associate degree.”

A man and a woman sit in chairs on a stage.
Carolyn and Ken discuss the pathways and connections that helped Ken succeed at LCCC.

Carolyn claims she was the one being motivated by her students. “Seeing their raw determination to master math they hadn’t looked at in 30 years, or in some cases had never even seen, made me just as determined to see them succeed and complete their degrees,” she said. “These students were a real source of inspiration to me.”

Although he was unsure of himself at the beginning of his studies, Ken said he gained more confidence each semester. He attributes his success to his “LCCC angels” including his advisor, Ursula Delahunty.

Ken graduated in May 2017 with his associate degree in business administration and is continuing his education through LCCC’s University Partnership with Cleveland State University to earn a bachelor of arts in organizational leadership. He is the first person in his family to earn a college degree. I am so proud of Ken’s hard work, as well as our faculty and staff who rallied around him. These are the stories that truly represent the heart of who we are as an institution and why I am so honored to be serving as president of this great community college.

Celebrating Student Success

June serves as a time of reflection for me – the academic year has ended and I am quickly approaching the completion of my first year as president of this great institution. We have made great strides within the past year regarding student completion and access to education, and our work is supported by a changing national perspective that people are viewing community colleges as their first-choice option.

A recent survey by New America asked 1,600 adult Americans about their views on higher education and it demonstrated the following results:

  • 83 percent believe community colleges contribute to a strong U.S. workforce
  • 82 percent believe community colleges are worth the cost
  • 80 percent believe community colleges prepare people to be successful

These survey responses truly represent a changing mindset regarding community colleges. Throughout the country, individuals are recognizing the important role community colleges play in the success of our communities and our nation.

At LCCC, student completion is the number one priority of our Vision 2020 Strategic Plan. Recent data shows that LCCC leads the state’s 23 community colleges with a rate of 61 percent of first-time students earning degrees by the end of their third year, persisting at the same institution or successfully transferring to a four-year institution. The state average for community colleges is 47 percent.

We’re proud that 1,532 more students earned their associate degrees last month and another 321 students earned their bachelor’s or master’s degree through LCCC’s University Partnership. While these numbers certainly demonstrate the impact our student completion focus is having on our community, it is the individual stories that really speak to the power of this community college to change lives.

The students we serve are the reason I am passionate every day about LCCC, and I hold strong to my philosophy that every student’s dream matters. Our students are remarkable – and I am so proud of each and every one who has committed to advancing their future through hard work and education. In case you haven’t heard, more than 1,500 LCCC students made the Dean’s List this spring!

I invite you to spend a few minutes watching this short video featuring five of our 2017 LCCC grads. I’m sure you’ll be as inspired as I am by their stories.

Continuing a Legacy of Success

As we celebrate Community College Month in April, I think it’s important to recognize and honor our nation’s unique institutions of higher education.

The nation’s America’s approximate 1,200 community colleges are considered by higher education scholars to be one of America’s greatest educational successes of the latter half of the 20th century. From the 1947 Truman Commission Report that mandated equal opportunities for higher education as a part of a national social justice agenda to 21st century workforce development efforts, community colleges are recognized as portals to opportunities. Our missions during the past 60 years have expanded from the traditional lower division transfer courses and vocational education to take on a more significant community role as a catalyst for change and problem solving. The community colleges’ social mission extended their reach beyond education to ensure that a focus was placed upon social and economic justice.

Today, more than half of all undergraduate students in the country are enrolled in community colleges. LCCC alone has served more than 350,000 students since 1963! What began as a movement to train workers for unfilled jobs has emerged into 1,462 innovative and dynamic community colleges adapting to serve the changing needs of their own communities across the country.

Many of these community colleges are connected through the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) whose annual conference I am attending this week in New Orleans, La., alongside representatives from 1,200 other community colleges. I am honored to be a presenter at this conference, sharing the impact community colleges and the many successes of our students.

Joining me here at the AACC conference is one of our college’s very own success stories, Daniel Truitt. Daniel received the highest score of all community college students in Ohio in the All-USA Coca-Cola Community College Academic Team competition. As the top student from Ohio, he was named a 2017 New Century Scholar, one of only 50 students in the country to win the award. He received a scholarship and was recognized at the AACC Presidents Breakfast Monday morning. At the state level, Daniel was named to the All-Ohio First Academic Team.

LCCC President Marcia Ballinger stands on the right in a white suit. In the center is Daniel Truitt, and to Daniel's left is his father.
I enjoyed spending time with Daniel and his father, Rick, at the AACC Presidents Breakfast in New Orleans.

As the valedictorian of Firelands High School’s class of 2014, Daniel Truitt’s options for selecting a college were wide open. While taking LCCC courses through a dual-enrollment option called College Credit Plus during high school, Daniel met LCCC Professor Kathy Durham who piqued his interest in biology. Daniel told me, “Dr. Durham’s courses sparked something in me that I didn’t know was there. When I found out that I could continue with Dr. Durham at LCCC and earn a bachelor’s degree in biology through LCCC’s University Partnership, it was like all the pieces came together.”

By taking full advantage of College Credit Plus and LCCC’s University Partnership, Daniel earned a bachelor’s degree from Bowling Green State University in December 2016 – at the ripe old age of 20!

He has accumulated zero debt and a lifetime of experiences, preparing him for his next adventure into medical school at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine this fall. I am so proud of Daniel and can’t wait to see what he is able to accomplish with his life.

LCCC student Brandon Holcomb from Lorain also won national recognition as a Silver Scholar in the All-USA competition. He was also named to the All-Ohio First Academic Team. Brandon is a senior in the Lorain County Early College High School, a four-year high school located on our campus that provides an amazing opportunity for motivated students to earn their high school diploma and associate degree simultaneously – and tuition-free. Brandon is doing amazing work as part of the Early Scientists HIV research group on campus.

Two male students smile with medallions around their neck.
Daniel and Brandon received a scholarship and medallion for their placement on the All-Ohio First Academic Team.

Daniel and Brandon will both march in the LCCC Commencement ceremony on May 13. I can’t wait to shake their hands as they cross the stage!

Lorain County Community College, like many other institutions throughout our country, has adapted to serve the needs of our community. With the changes within our shifting industry base, we increased targeted skills-based training programs that prepare students for unfilled and high-paying jobs. Additionally, we’ve encouraged students to consider making their own job through entrepreneurship and have created a broad-based entrepreneurial support network. LCCC’s robust portfolio of resources for entrepreneurs and innovators led the National Association of Community College Entrepreneurship to recognize LCCC as one of five community colleges across the country with an award for demonstrating excellence in entrepreneurship. I had the honor of accepting the award today at the AACC conference. That’s part of the fabric at LCCC … to grow talent and grow jobs.

From our roots, our number one priority was to meet the needs of our community and I am proud to be part of driving that legacy forward.

Empowering Women, Creating Leaders

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, I’m reminded of the wonderful contributions women have made to the creation of Lorain County Community College and the success of our college and community. The advocacy efforts of Lorain County’s League of Women Voters in 1963 led to your community college receiving the charter for the first permanent community college campus in the state of Ohio. It was this early group of women, along with local business and community leaders, who saw the potential for education to improve our community, create leaders, and empower women.

Earlier this week I was honored to be the guest speaker for our local WIMODAUGHSIS (Wives, Daughters and Sisters of Master Masons) chapter. I was invited by Jane Norton, one of the College’s longest supporters and champions, and I was delighted to engage with this wonderful group of dedicated women in a conversation about the state of higher education in our county. Similar to the League of Women Voters, WIMODAUGHSIS has a rich history of supporting local causes that foster equality and provide assistance to those in need and I was impressed at how deeply this group truly cares about advancing women.

A room full of women sit at tables to listen to Jane Norton speak at the front of the room.
It was inspiring and appropriate to connect with Jane Norton, WIMODAUGHSIS Chapter President Sharon Herzer, and the WIMODAUGHSIS members during Women’s History Month.

Over the past five decades, more than 100,000 women have earned college credits and advanced in their lives thanks to their education from LCCC. While the numbers are grand, it’s the woman behind each number that I believe is so important. Women like Patty Rone, Kristin Hohman, and Char Wray.

I met Patty two years ago when she was a Licensed Practical Nurse working in home health care and wanted to get ahead in her career and in life by earning her RN degree. Her determination, perseverance, dedication, and commitment to overcoming barriers have inspired me beyond words. Equally inspiring is Kelly Gruscinski, who works in our Office of Accessibility Services, and partnered with Patty to help her cross the finish line this past December to complete her degree. I was thrilled when Patty called to share her news that she passed her NCLEX exam in February and is now employed as an RN as Mercy Health Center.

A photo of Patty Rone and LCCC President Marcia Ballinger.
Patty Rone and me after she passed the NCLEX exam.

Kristin serves as Editor-in-Chief of our Collegian student newspaper. I’ve gotten to know her throughout the past year as she and I each assumed our respective new roles. Earlier this month she interviewed me about my views on Women’s History Month, and I decided to turn the question around and ask her about who has inspired her at LCCC. She immediately lit up and told me about an experience during her first semester here when she connected with faculty member Tammy Bosley, who teaches Communications. After a hiatus from attending a university several years earlier, Kristin wasn’t sure how she might fit in at LCCC. The tremendous support that Kristin felt from Tammy that first semester and the continued mentoring have demonstrated to her that women supporting women has made a meaningful difference in her career decision.

A blond woman sits to the left of LCCC President Marcia Ballinger in the president's office.
Kristin and I enjoyed interviewing each other about Women’s History Month.

We are fortunate to have many women in teaching and leadership positions at the College, as well as several women serving on our Foundation and District Boards. Char Wray, a member of our Foundation’s Board of Directors and a member of our Health Careers Advisory Committee, was named President of University Hospitals Elyria Medical Center in 2015. As the first woman to be appointed to this role, Char is truly a role model for women in our community. And wouldn’t you know – Char got her start right here at LCCC where she earned her associate of applied science degree in nursing. She continued her education through our University Partnership, earning her bachelor of science in nursing from The University of Akron and enabling her to advance her career.

A photo of Char Wray.
Char Wray got her start here at LCCC.

Patty, Kelly, Kristin, Tammy and Char embody what this month is all about – empowering women to succeed in life and positively impact our society.

One of my personal goals as president is to ensure we are doing our part to create leaders – within our College, our community and our students, and I welcome your ideas on how we can continue supporting those facing challenges in their lives – regardless of gender, socioeconomic status, or ethnicity. Every student’s dream matters and it is our responsibility to continue creating equal opportunity for all.

Amidst the dreary January weather, our faculty members have been preparing for the launch of our spring semester. The start of a new semester represents a new beginning for some, a milestone of accomplishments for others, and for all of us the chance to reflect on our purpose, our direction and our source of motivation. What better time to do this than when our semester start coincides with the start of a brand-new year?

Last week the College hosted Josh Wyner, Founder, Vice President, and Executive Director for the College Excellence Program at the Aspen Institute to serve as our keynote speaker at our mid-year convocation. The Aspen Institute is an internationally recognized educational and policy studies organization that provides a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. Under Josh’s leadership, the Institute has done tremendous work nationwide in identifying key components to community college success. But they don’t stop at policy – the Aspen Institute actively engages colleges and their leaders to create sustainable change and help students achieve their dreams.

We were honored to have Josh Wyner speak at LCCC's Mid-Year Convocation.
We were honored to have Josh Wyner speak at LCCC’s Mid-Year Convocation.

LCCC’s connection to the Aspen Institute runs deep – LCCC has twice been named one of the Aspen Institute’s top 120 colleges and last year I was selected for the Aspen Fellowship program. It has been a wonderful experience working with Josh and other leaders to identify best practices that we can apply right here at LCCC.

The Community College Excellence Program has identified the following formula as the new definition of college success: Access + Completion + Post-Graduation Student Success. As a community college, creating access is part of our mission and has always been a core focus of our work. More recently, we have worked to improve our student completion rates and I am pleased to announce that our rates of students completing their degree within three years have more than doubled since 2010. This is a wonderful tribute to the hard work of our Student Success Council team and many others on campus who have played a role in our success.

We continuously use data to inform our strategies, practices and policies to improve student success. While the numbers often provide insight, I am reminded that it is the real people behind the data points that truly matter. Along with Josh Wyner, we invited several inspiring students to speak at our mid-year convocation and they talked about what this college means to them.

Personal connections make all the difference in college achievement, the students said.
Personal connections make all the difference in college achievement, the students said.

Each of them come from incredibly different backgrounds, but have a consistent theme to their story – that they chose LCCC because they wanted a clear pathway to a successful future at a college where they can connect with their faculty and peers. That personal connection to our faculty and staff was repeated several times that morning and speaks volumes to the dedication of our employees – many of who often go above and beyond to help our students be successful.

As a way to celebrate our faculty and staff for their extraordinary efforts that support our vision, I have created a small recognition symbol and award.  The idea came from a story I shared in an earlier post of Espy Correa gifting a bike to a student to help him get to class. The first recipients were LCCC’s website redesign team led by Lori Martin and the email migration team led by Don Huffman and Norm Lease. Thank you for all of your hard work on these challenging projects!

The message of the BIKE card is a wonderful reminder of why we, as faculty and staff, are all here. THIS is why I come to work every day – to see our students fully realize their potential and create better lives for themselves and their families.believe

  • Believe in every student…for they have a dream.
  • Inspire every student to achieve their greatest potential.
  • Be Kind, for the smallest gesture of kindness could mean the difference in success or failure for that student.
  • Empower every student by taking action to help break down every barrier to success.

If you would like to nominate someone for the BIKE card, you may do so here. Thank you for helping me recognize and celebrate our LCCC team.


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Breaking Down Barriers to Success

I find myself speaking and writing quite a bit lately about Lorain County Community College’s strategic plan, Vision 2020, and that is because I am fully committed to guiding this institution on a path to successfully achieving this vision. When I accepted the presidency position, I also accepted the charge to enable LCCC to continue forging ahead with Vision 2020 as our guide. Literally thousands of voices from our community helped create this vision and I believe it has our College focused on the right priorities – those most needed by our community and our campus.

Vision 2020’s first strategic priority is to drive student completion for academic and career success. “Student completion” has become quite a buzzword within the higher-academic world, and this is because research has emerged that demonstrates that while community college enrollment numbers remain steady, graduation rates are low. As a way to counter this, community colleges across the country are placing a focus on improving what we refer to as “student completion” rates – essentially making sure students are earning the degree they are striving for when they first enroll. This is why our first strategic priority is focused on this specific area.

First and foremost, we are here to educate, but we also need to be here for our students to help them finish what they set out to do when they first step onto our campus. Seventy percent of our student population is enrolled part time, and many are non-traditional students – meaning they are not coming to us straight out of high school but at a later, and often more complicated life stage. Our students face challenges such as a lack of affordable child care, lack of reliable transportation, and an overall lack of resources to provide for their families. Many are balancing jobs with family commitments and school, and unfortunately school often becomes the last priority.

At LCCC, we are working to change this by addressing these barriers in order to help our students be successful. One program focused on this area recently received statewide recognition – SAIL, Students Accelerated in Learning, is modeled after a program called ASAP (Accelerated Study in Associate Programs) that was implemented at the City University of New York (CUNY). LCCC was selected to pilot this program, along with three other community colleges in Ohio in partnership with MDRC, a national nonprofit education and social policy organization, and funded by a grant from the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation (Madison, Wisconsin), a non-profit organization dedicated to helping make college a reality.  The purpose of the pilot program was to determine if the CUNY model was transferable to community colleges in other parts of the country.

The SAIL program launched in 2015 and seeks to improve student success by addressing and removing barriers for low-income, first-time, full-time college students who are seeking to earn a degree. Students who were chosen to participate in the program received personalized advising and career planning advice, sponsored tuition, food gift cards, textbook vouchers and were required to take advantage of tutoring services offered by the college.

I was pleased to join Cynthia Arredondo, advisor, left; and students Dorisa Johnson and Anastacia Novosielski
I was proud to discuss the success of LCCC’s SAIL program in Columbus along with LCCC advisor Cynthia Arredondo, left; students Dorisa Johnson and Anastacia Novosielski.

The results thus far are promising and a few weeks ago I was invited to Columbus to attend a forum hosted by the Ohio Department of Higher Education to discuss SAIL’s success. One of our student advisors, Cynthia Arredondo, and students Dorisa Johnson and Anastacia Novosielski joined me and shared their personal experiences with the program. To date, 344 students have earned more college credit with higher grade point averages while continuing to make progress toward their degrees at a faster rate compared to a control group.

While SAIL’s metrics indicate we are on the right track, it is the personal stories of impact that are most remarkable. Last spring, we graduated the first three SAIL participants and all of them have gone on to pursue advanced degrees – two of which are now attending our University Partnership! Donna Atanasova was one of these graduates and SAIL could not have come at a better time for her. She came to LCCC after leaving her job of 21 years looking to earn a degree, but when she first enrolled at LCCC her grade point average was only 1.62. Thanks to SAIL, she brought that up to a 3.7 and became a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society. This semester she is a University Partnership student pursing her bachelor’s degree in accounting with Hiram College – right here on our campus. Read Donna’s Great Grad story from Commencement 2016.

Donna, right, holds flowers while being congratulated by her husband following LCCC's 2016 Commencement ceremony.
Donna and her husband, Zdravko Atanasov, following the LCCC 2016 Commencement ceremony.

Even though all of our students come to us with their own unique set of challenges, it is our job as an institution committed to providing access to higher education to find innovative ways to create pathways to success. For some students like Donna, the personalized advising and tutoring can make all the difference. For other students like Nacho, whose story I shared in this blog, help with transportation was all it took to set him up for success. We recognize that each student’s situation is different and by prioritizing this effort through Vision 2020, I am confident we can continue to find solutions to removing these barriers – because every student’s dream matters.

Today is a special day – 50 years ago, on October 3, 1966, Lorain County Community College opened its doors to our permanent campus. Many of you may not be aware that the history of community colleges dates back to 1947 when the Truman Commission had a vision of accessible and affordable post-secondary education. The League of Women Voters, along with local business and community leaders, spearheaded the movement to create our own community college. But it wasn’t until the residents of Lorain County voted to establish a tax levy, which continues to provide critical funding to this day, that Lorain County Community College became a reality. Lorain County Community College was granted a charter to serve Lorain County’s higher education needs on July 15, 1963.

The Morning Journal, Saturday, October 1, 1966.
The Morning Journal, Saturday, October 1, 1966.

Many people may not know that LCCC’s roots lie deep within the city of Lorain. Lorain City Schools gifted the Lorain School of Technology along with the Brownell Building, where classes were held for the College’s first two years. Who knew that this would be the start of a partnership between the College and Lorain City Schools that would last the next 50-plus years? In fact, the teachers from the School of Technology became LCCC’s first teachers.

Brownell School, the site of the first LCCC classes in 1964.
Brownell School, the site of the first LCCC classes in 1964.

The College had 1,006 students register for classes during the first year of operation, and the leadership at the time recognized that a larger, more permanent campus would soon be necessary. A committee studied 17 different locations during the winter of 1963-64, and the Abbe Road location prevailed as the most desired location that would be accessible to all in Lorain County.

Three families provided a total of 249 acres of farmland to the College, creating the opportunity for a permanent campus with room to grow according to the community’s needs. And grow we have! In 1966, the first three buildings opened their doors, staking Lorain County Community College’s place as Ohio’s first community college with a permanent campus. We have gone from a first graduating class of 33 students to more than 12,500 students enrolled this semester.

Our connection to the community runs deep – our roots lie within the heart of those who recognized the important role education can play in a region’s economic vitality. Since 2000, we have helped increase educational attainment in Lorain County by 21 percent for associate degrees, 29 percent in bachelor’s degrees and 49 percent in master’s degrees – far outpacing other counties in our region. The community had a vision 50 years ago, and the College has delivered.

But what makes Lorain County Community College so special is the people. Our students are motivated to work hard and improve their lives. Our faculty and staff are dedicated to going above and beyond to remove barriers to success. Lorain County is a special community – and its college has created a family who cares deeply about our future.

Ohio Historical Marker located near College Center.
Ohio Historical Marker located near College Center.

In some instances, the personal connections to Lorain County have persisted through generations. In fact, one of the families who provided part of the land for our campus is that of our very own Dean of Allied Health and Nursing, Dr. Hope Moon. The ripple effect of the hard work championed by those early leaders is also carried on throughout the community by our alumni. I recently learned that a strong leader and long-time champion and partner of the College was part of one of our first graduating classes. Mr. Paul Rigda retired (2015) Superintendent of the Elyria City Schools is a proud graduate of the class of 1968.

Paul graduated from Lorain High School and immediately enrolled at LCCC in 1966 – as one of the first students on our permanent campus. Paul continued his education, ultimately completing his bachelor’s in education from Kent State University and master’s degree in learning disabilities and behavior disorders, also from Kent State before embarking on a 43-year career in education.  What is truly remarkable about Paul’s story is that he was the first in his family to not only graduate from college, but from high school! Paul told me, “I got a great education – those two years were wonderful. Little did I know back in 1968 that this would be the beginning of a career that led me all the way to being Superintendent.”

Paul Rigda, LCCC alum and retired Superintendent of Elyria City Schools, received a resolution of gratitude from the LCCC District Board of Trustees during the 2015 LCCC Commencement ceremony.
Paul Rigda, LCCC alum and retired Superintendent of Elyria City Schools, received a resolution of gratitude from the LCCC District Board of Trustees during the 2015 LCCC Commencement ceremony.

LCCC helped Paul achieve his academic success, and we are so grateful that he later was instrumental in helping to launch Lorain County Early College High School, a collaboration between Lorain County Community College, Elyria City Schools and Lorain City Schools. This program provides a pathway for high school students who are first in their family to go to college to earn their associate degree simultaneously with their high school diploma. Talk about paying it forward. Paul is truly an inspiration and his story demonstrates how much positive impact access to quality education can have not only on one’s success, but also on an entire community.

As we celebrate this 50-year milestone, I hope that the generational connections to Lorain County Community College continue to grow. Those who were first in their families to attend college are now able to pass down the gift of knowledge to their own children. There are countless more stories like Paul and Hope that I enjoy sharing through this blog as a reminder of the importance of our work. This College truly was a gift from the people of Lorain County to future generations, and together we can continue our impact as we address the needs of our county.

The Power of Collaboration

As  the community’s college, Lorain County Community College is here to provide affordable education, training options and entrepreneurial guidance to everyone. We firmly believe that everyone’s dream matters and recognize that in order for us to fulfill our mission, we must work to remove the barriers preventing our students from reaching their goals.

In fact, Vision 2020’s first strategic priority is to Drive Student Completion for Academic and Career Success and it focuses on identifying ways to remove the barriers facing our students. The Chronicle Telegram recently brought to light one such barrier that continues to plague our students, our cities and our county – poverty. The September 15 article, County poverty rate dips ‘but still too bigpointed out that while Lorain County’s poverty rate declined from 14.8 percent to 13.5 percent from 2014-15, it has still not recovered to pre-Great Recession level of 12.5 percent. Perhaps most alarming is the fact that the city of Lorain’s poverty rate is 24.4 percent – 10 percent higher than the state of Ohio.

I see the impact of these poverty rates every day on our campus through the eyes of our students – many of whom are struggling to make ends meet while taking classes to try to improve their financial state. I have shared several student stories through this blog that bring to life how difficult it can be to be facing financial hardship while trying to achieve your goals. The College is addressing the issue internally through an initiative focusing on Closing Achievement Gaps of Under-Resourced Learners as part of Vision 2020. However, we know that we cannot solve this problem alone.

LCCC often serves as the convener regarding social issues, and our best work occurs when we bring organizations together to solve problems affecting Lorain County residents. Poverty is one of those issues that truly requires all hands on deck in order to make a difference.

The College recently joined forces with the United Way of Greater Lorain County and ten other partners across the nonprofit, government and education sectors to launch the WE3 Collaborative, which stands for Women Empowered, Educated and Employed. WE3 strives to help hard-working single mothers living in poverty increase their earning capacity to help them become economically secure and self-sufficient. Each partner plays a critical role in WE3’s success and together I am confident we can make a difference in the lives of these women, while working toward an even larger decrease in Lorain County’s poverty rate.

The work of the WE3 collaborative directly aligns with Vision 2020’s third strategic priority of Inspiring Community Engagement, Connectivity, Diversity and Wellness. Through this priority, the College is working to achieve several initiatives, including Impacting the Quality of Life of Under-Served Populations by expanding partnerships and programs that respond to the unique needs and opportunities of those most under-represented/under-served in our community. We are also working to Increase Community Capacity Building by partnering with others for community planning and problem solving through neutral convening to discover common ground and achieve collective impact. The WE3 collaborative embodies these initiatives and I am so proud LCCC is able to serve in a leadership role.

While creating new programs to address social issues is wonderful work, experience has taught me that it is the people behind these programs that truly give them meaning. Just last week, I had the opportunity to meet LaToya Miller, who was recently hired as the Project Coordinator for WE3.  LaToya commented that her “role embodies everything I represent as a woman and a mother – empowered, educated and employed.”

As a mother, I, too, understand the challenges of raising a family while going to school and working full time. When I pursued my MBA though the University Partnership program with Kent State University my daughters were in elementary and middle school, and later when earning my Ph.D. they were high school students.  I can only imagine how much harder this scenario becomes when financial hardship comes into play.

The heartfelt work of the WE3 Collaborative will continue to make a difference, along with other programs at the College striving to remove barriers to success. As an institution, our goal is to stay in touch with the needs of our community, allowing us to identify opportunities for new partnerships. This is how we harness the power of collaboration to create meaningful change for our students and community. There is so much for us to build upon here in Lorain County – and together we can help each student reach his or her potential. Because, after all, every student’s dream matters.


Click here for more information on WE3.

WE3 is made possible by the following partners:

  • Elyria Public Library
  • Lorain City Schools
  • Lorain County Community Action Agency
  • Lorain County Community College
  • Lorain County Department of Job and Family Services
  • Lorain County JVS
  • Lorain County Urban League
  • Oberlin College Bonner Center for Service and Learning
  • Oberlin Community Services
  • Ohio Means Jobs Lorain County
  • United Way of Greater Lorain County
  • YWCA of Elyria