The best time of the year is here – commencement season! I love seeing our graduates celebrate their moment as they cross the commencement stage and soar to their futures.
I was thrilled to lead the 58th annual Commencement exercises for the Lorain County Community College and University Partnership Class of 2022. This was our first in-person graduation ceremony since 2019, and it was wonderful to see our field house filled with graduates and their supporters.The Class of 2022 included 1,773 graduates earning 2,193 associate degrees and certificates – and four of those students earned an applied bachelor’s degree from LCCC in microelectronic manufacturing. An additional 351 graduates earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees through LCCC’s University Partnership. That’s a grand total of 2,554 degrees and credentials earned by 2,124 graduates, and I am incredibly proud of each and every one.
This graduating class holds a special place in my heart as this year we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of LCCC’s University Partnership. This program launched in 1996 as an innovative solution to the fact that Lorain County was falling behind in bachelor’s degree attainment. What began with five partner colleges and universities offering 12 degrees has grown to now include 14 partners and more than 100 bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Students who complete degrees through the University Partnership save an average of $74,000.
And that all adds up to big strides for our region. Since 2000, Lorain County has experienced a 77% increase in bachelor’s degree holders – one of two counties in Northeast Ohio with the highest increase in baccalaureate attainment. And we continue to enhance the University Partnership, most recently through an expanded strategic alliance with Case Western Reserve University to continue to fuel Ohio’s emerging semiconductor economy.
Helping our students get a jump-start on their higher education goals are our dual enrollment programs. This year, 127 high school students earned a degree or certificate at the same time they completed high school through Early College High School, College Credit Plus or Career Technical Education programs. This includes Sierra Mobley, who earned both an associate of arts and an associate of science at the same time she completed Lorain County Early College High School on the LCCC campus. In everything we do at LCCC, it’s all about helping our graduates and our region soar. To celebrate the class of 2022 and recognize the 25th anniversary of the University Partnership, we dedicated a breathtaking public art display called SOAR, Success and Opportunity, Advancing the Region. The display spans 200 feet and features 2,022 sculpted birds in perpetual motion, soaring in the air. When you stand near the display, you feel the sensation of being in a flock of birds that has just taken to flight.
It’s my hope that our graduates and our community see this display and are reminded of their own potential to take flight and achieve the lives and careers of their dreams. And I hope they know their community college is here for them along the way.
April is Community College Month, a time to celebrate the broad impact of our nation’s community colleges.
Lorain County Community College.
It’s right there, our middle name: community.
LCCC’s history of serving the community stretches back to 1963 when the need was recognized for a local college to create higher education access and a bridge to gainful employment. Over the past 59 years, LCCC has helped Lorain County adapt and thrive through prosperity and challenging times. Through nimble academic programs and meaningful connections with local industry, the college has helped our community remain competitive today and prepared for the innovation of tomorrow.
In this era of rapid change, the ability to quickly adapt and create new training and credentials is one of LCCC’s most important attributes. By listening to local employers and keeping an eye on the pulse on the needs of our community, as well as nationwide trends, LCCC creates academic programming that leads to career-ready graduates with good paying jobs waiting for them upon graduation. As a result, more than 90% of LCCC graduates live and work in Northeast Ohio. All this builds a confidence in LCCC and our region that employers look for when making big decisions.
So, earlier this year when Intel announced it is bringing its most advanced chip manufacturing operation in the world to Ohio, I was thrilled but not surprised. LCCC and our entire state have been preparing for an opportunity like this for decades and we are ready to maximize the economic impact Intel will bring. A group of college and local leaders gathered to watch the live stream of the Intel announcement. Watch the video:
While some find themselves Googling the work that Intel does, at LCCC, words like “semiconductor” and “mechatronics” have been part of our vocabulary for nearly a decade. In fact, LCCC has been training students in the field of microelectronic manufacturing (MEMS) since 2013 when we became the first community college to offer an associate degree in MEMS. In 2018, LCCC made history again as the first community college to deliver an applied bachelor’s degree in MEMS.
Our MEMS program is delivered in a successful and replicable “earn and learn” format where students work while attending college. Not only does this model of learning give students opportunities to gain work experience while they are in school, making themselves more attractive to future employers, it allows students to earn a livable wage as they complete the program. This structure, combined with the low cost of community college tuition and time to degree of typically two years, drives the growth and diversity within our earn and learn programs. The MEMS program alone has increased from three students in 2013 to 150 in 2021. And these students are women, students of color, traditional college age, and adult learners.
These two applied bachelor’s degrees offered by LCCC complement the more than 100 bachelor’s and master’s degrees from 14 Ohio colleges and universities in LCCC’s University Partnership. This year, we celebrate 25 years of the University Partnership providing affordable degrees to local people. By pairing LCCC’s low tuition rate with thoughtful transfer pathways, students in LCCC’s University Partnership save an average of $75,000 on their degrees.
That savings makes a real difference for students and their families. This can be particularly significant for high school dual enrollment students who follow a bachelor’s degree pathway through our MyUniversity program – a model that allows students to earn a bachelor’s degree by age 20 while saving 80 percent on the cost of their education.
Whether students are earning a short-term certificate, an associate degree, or a bachelor’s or master’s degree, they can confidently pursue their goals knowing their program will prepare them for a career right here in Northeast Ohio. After all, that’s why LCCC was created. It’s a mission we’ve fulfilled since 1963, serving our community, now and in the future.
February can be one of the bleakest months in Northeast Ohio. Fortunately, there is a bright spot this time of year with the annual DREAM conference, hosted by Achieving the Dream (ATD).
Recently, I joined more than 300 community college leaders for the ATD annual convening. Inside the virtual conference, I felt myself become energized through the stories and strategies shared – especially the messages shared by ATD President and CEO Dr. Karen Stout.
During her opening remarks, Dr. Stout unveiled ATD’s new vision statement, which centers on helping to create vibrant communities by advancing community colleges as hubs of equity and mobility in their communities. She went on to encourage each college to be a beacon of hope. As our communities and students continue to make their way make through the challenges of recent years, Dr. Stout urged us each to create hope on our campuses and beyond. It was a message that set the tone for the entire DREAM conference. And even now, long after the final plenary session has ended, I find myself returning to Dr. Stout’s message for inspiration.
It seems like a simple thing. It’s a dream, a wish; the feeling that something better is yet to come.
Hope is the spark that ignites us to strive for more. It calls from inside us, pushing us to take a risk and put ourselves out there. It’s the quiet resolve that the result will be worth the effort. Hope is essential for our future, but these dark times may have dimmed the hope inside many.
Fortunately, there are places that specialize in hope: community colleges.
At LCCC, our mission directly aligns with ATD’s vision statement. Our hope for a vibrant future for all has developed into a strategic plan to ensure that everyone in our region has equitable access to the education they need to build a successful future for themselves, their families and all of Lorain County. We know that education can be the golden ticket to a better tomorrow. But before a student ever makes it to their first class, they must first have hope that they can succeed. Once there is hope, a plan can be developed to help each student reach their goals. Whether it is an associate degree or certificate from LCCC or a bachelor’s or master’s degree through LCCC’s University Partnership, we can help our students and our community build and spread hope.
Brandon Woodall is an LCCC culinary student who turned his dream into action. Named a 2022 DREAM Scholar by ATD, Brandon is inspiring people across the country with his story of hope and determination. Long before he was named a DREAM Scholar, Brandon was a kid growing up with two loves: basketball and cooking with his Aunt Valerie. His basketball dreams nearly came true – he briefly attended two different colleges and played on their basketball teams, but a lack of funding and support services caused him to drop out each time. He worked a variety of jobs to make ends meet, but cooking remained his passion. In 2018, he opened his own catering and private chef business, named Valerie’s Kitchen and Catering, in honor of his aunt. When the pandemic caused his plans to change, his aunt encouraged him to enroll in LCCC’s culinary arts program. Brandon was nervous but filled with hope.
Now in his second year at LCCC, Brandon’s hard work is paying off. He is excelling in the culinary program and making a name for himself in Lorain County and beyond as he wows clients with his food and inspires them with his enthusiasm for his craft. When Brandon earns an associate degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management – Culinary Arts later this year, he will be the first in his family to graduate from college. Learn more about Brandon.
During the ATD DREAM conference, Brandon shared an autobiographical poem. Part of his poem includes:
I am from building an empire from the ground up so that my children and grandchildren can break generational curses. I am from being scared to death to enter culinary school because of fear of failure. I am from Chef Adam and Chef Brad, my culinary instructors who saw potential in me.
His poem continues,
I am no longer from the doubt and negativity generated by people who think you can’t do it. I am Chef B and I am here to build my dynasty.
(Read Brandon’s full poem below.)
And what a dynasty it will be. With the help of LCCC, Brandon is creating a foundation for a successful future. Through LCCC’s customized support services, Brandon and all LCCC students receive customized academic support and access to holistic wrap around services through the LCCC Advocacy and Resource Center. These supports, as well as every action we take at LCCC, are deliberately designed with equity in mind.
It’s my core belief that every student’s dream matters, and LCCC is committed to helping every student achieve their dreams, no matter their circumstances. Through our work with Achieving the Dream, we continue to make strides in equity in access, experience and completion for all students. LCCC first joined ATD in 2011 and with their guidance and our own strategic planning, LCCC has risen to a leader in student success. In fact, LCCC has held ATD Leader College status since 2015, and been a Leader College of Distinction since 2019. In 2020, LCCC received the ATD Leah Meyer Austin Award for student success. With a laser focus, LCCC is strategically addressing equity in all aspects of LCCC’s work. LCCC’s Equity by Design Team actively seeks to advance equity and inclusion for all students, and a multi-pronged approach to community outreach ensures everyone in our region has the opportunity to access higher education.
The result of these measures is an increase in students’ persistence and an overall increase in completion rates, especially among minority, low-income and under-represented groups. Over the past decade, graduation attainment for LCCC’s Black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx students has nearly quadrupled. Additional progress includes an increase in the completion of gateway math and English courses, with the largest increase among low-income students; increased persistence from year to year, with the largest increase among Black/African American students; and increased completion rates among all students, with the largest increase among first-generation college students.
These improvements are the result of deliberate policy changes, holistic support and reaching students earlier in their academic career to ensure all people in our area build the hope of a better future. For students in grades 7-12, LCCC’s dual enrollment programs allow students to gain college experience – for free and often in their home schools. In fact, 45% of Lorain County high school students earn LCCC college credit by the time they graduate. That amounts to a savings of nearly $5 million for local families.
That early touch point to college builds momentum for high school students – many who are the first in their family to pursue higher education. In fact, 81 percent of Lorain County high school graduates who earn LCCC dual enrollment credit continue in higher education – compared the national average of 66 percent.
These are remarkable gains, but there is always more work ahead. My hope for the future is that more students will turn to their community college to help turn their hopes into a plan for success – just like Brandon.
I am from By Brandon Woodall, Sr.
I am Brandon Woodall Sr.
I am from where most people don’t make it out.
From empty abandoned houses in the neighborhood and broken glass on the street.
I am from the unforgiving city of Cleveland, Ohio.
72nd and St. Clair street to be exact.
I am from the number one bus on the RTA, standing up and holding on tight as the bus sways.
I am from long walks to Save A lot in the snow and selling brownies and chili dogs to have lunch money in my pockets.
I am from grandma’s and grandad’s house which was filled with aromas from burning charcoal outside to the smell of the well seasoned chicken wings inside.
I am from the caramelization of nutmeg and brown sugar on top of my Aunt Val’s yams.
I am from loud smacks on the table when an Ace beats a King in spades.
I am from the loud cheer in the kitchen when the Browns score.
I am from building an empire from the ground up so that my children and grandchildren can break generational curses.
I am from sleepless nights due to preparation for events.
I am from being scared to death to enter culinary school because of fear of failure.
I am from Chef Adam and Chef Brad, my culinary instructors who saw potential in me.
I am from Lorain County Community College where they gave me an opportunity to be a Sous Chef for many events getting me ready for the real world.
I was appointed to be a part of the first ever Traveling Culinary team tasked with assisting a 4 star restaurant with its grand opening.
I am 1 of 4 students from Lorain County Community College picked to publish some of my recipes in the Ohio Farm Bureau Magazine which gave me exposure throughout Ohio.
I am no longer from the doubt and negativity generated by people who think you can’t do it.
In the next 5 years I see myself being a private chef and expanding my catering craft.
People around the world will come to eat my lamb and rice with brown sauce, my seafood boil with juicy king crab, my mouth watering Cajun corn, and my famous soul food that is stellar beyond its years.
As thousands of Lorain County Community College and University Partnership students begin classes today, I welcome them to our LCCC family. Our students continue to look forward, building a brighter future for themselves and our community. When I think of our resilient students, I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Throughout the pandemic, our students continue to look boldly forward. In the face of struggle, they’ve chosen hope. And their community college is here to help them achieve their goals. We do this by cultivating community, opportunity and unity, here on campus and throughout our region. It all happens through a lens of equity that meets students where they are, wraps them in our Culture of Care, and results in academic and career success.
One recent graduate who found career success is David Copsey. Following his calling to serve his community in the healthcare field, David came to LCCC with a plan to study nursing. However, once he shadowed a respiratory therapist, he knew he’d found his true purpose and enrolled in Bowling Green State University’s respiratory care program through LCCC’s University Partnership.
Once the pandemic hit in March 2020, David felt even more solidified that he was in the right place, despite the hardships of the field.
“Other people’s instincts were to leave when the pandemic hit, but for me this job is truly a calling,” David said.
David graduated in December 2020 – a peak of the pandemic – and immediately accepted a position with the Cleveland Clinic. It’s a rigorous job and he felt well prepared by his degree program.
“It’s hard sometimes. There are a lot of times I’m crying; there are a lot of times I’m frustrated,” David said. “But I still wouldn’t change it for the world because I’m constantly helping people every single day, which I love to do.”
I’m so proud David is following his passion to serve others; and I’m honored that his community college was able help him reach his goals. This represents the root of who we are as an organization. LCCC was created in 1963 to deliver quality educational opportunities for everyone. And in 1996, our community supported the addition of our University Partnership program, offering affordable bachelor’s and master’s degrees right here on the Elyria campus. As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the LCCC’s University Partnership, I’m inspired by David and all the University Partnership graduates making a difference, and humbled by the community that made this program possible.
Since the creation of the University Partnership, nearly 7,000 people have seized this wonderful opportunity and earned their degree. What began as a partnership with five colleges and universities delivering 12 bachelor’s and master’s degrees has expanded to 14 partner colleges delivering more than 100 degrees. And because we know that high tuition costs are often a barrier to educational attainment, affordability remains central: the average University Partnership student saves $74,000 on the cost of a bachelor’s degree. Instead of racking up debt, LCCC and University Partnership students build relevant, job-ready skills that meet the needs of local employers. In fact, 90% of LCCC graduates find work here in Northeast Ohio.
Low cost, quality education that leads to high wage jobs; that’s one key to building strong communities, a strong economy and brighter future for us all. Another key lies in the knowledge that we can achieve more together than we can separately. As we convene for the first day of classes, we celebrate the unity that’s created when people from all walks of life come together to pursue their dreams.
To inspire students on this topic, we hosted an event in College Center on January 18 commemorating the life’s work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and featuring former NFL player, Shawn Harper. Shawn’s story of overcoming the odds and surmounting negativity was a wonderful message for our students as they begin their spring semester, likely facing challenging circumstances on a personal or emotional level.
To further mark this occasion and our commitment to social justice, today we unveiled the launch of a Unity Quilt. Students, faculty and the community can participate by creating a personalized square that represent their views on unity, service and community. Alone, each square tells just one story, but when woven together, a beautiful new collective emerges.
Like the quilt, each student starting class today has their own experience that becomes an integral part of the overall fabric of our campus and our community. My hope for this semester is that students continue boldly in pursuit of their dreams – and their community college will be here to help them by providing opportunity, connection to community and unity for all.
As the holidays approach, I find myself reflecting on what truly matters.
Over the past year, I have seen our community come together as we navigate the future together. At Lorain County Community College, this includes our students, faculty and staff, as well as our collaborations with many public and private partners. Thank you for all you do to make our community a caring and vibrant place to live.
In the coming year, I encourage to you continue to care for one another and to live each day with gratitude and joy.
With warm regards,
Marcia J. Ballinger, Ph.D.
Lorain County Community College
For those of us old enough to remember, it’s a day frozen in time. September 11, 2001.
It’s one of those days that leaves a mark on your soul. You remember what you were doing, where you were and who you were with at the time the news broke that our country was under attack. For all of us, the day was marked with fear, shock and sadness and forever changed the way we view the world.
It’s now been 20 years since terrorists overtook four commercial flights, crashing the planes in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Two decades have passed since 2,977 innocent people lost their lives that day, yet the memories of that day never get easier. On that day we held our collective breath, worrying, wondering what would happen next.
And yet, in the midst of the tragedy, there was still a spark of the American spirit. That spark grew into a flickering flame and soon a raging fire as our country came together to heal, to hope and to move forward in the face of tragedy. When the chips were stacked against us, Americans across the nation came together with resolve and hope for our future. In the days, weeks and months that followed, we were one people: Americans. And we did what Americans do: we helped each other.
In the heartbreaking video footage of the chaos in New York City, we saw the terrified faces of people running away from the rubble – running for their lives, hoping to see their family and friends again. And we saw the brave faces of the first responders, those remarkable men and women who ran toward the collapsing buildings; those who knew the risk and went anyway. Among the 2,977 people who died that day were 441 New York City first responders. They died doing their job, but so much more. They died for the cause of helping others – they died heroes and our country remains indebted to them.
A popular quote from Mister Rogers reminds people in time of crisis to “look for the helpers” – the people who run toward tragedy to aid others. When I see the videos of the police officers, firefighters, paramedics and medical professionals who answered the call on 9/11, I think of the students I see here at Lorain County Community College in our first responder and health care programs, as well as the LCCC alumni who now serve our local communities. LCCC is the number one location in Lorain County for first responder training, and it’s a responsibility we take seriously. The students in classes this year are working toward their goal helping others, even when it may not be easy or convenient for them. The legacy of those lost on 9/11 lives on with those working and training in these vital fields.
As I remember that awful day and the week and months that followed the attacks, I’m reminded of the many other helpers who emerged during that time to help our nation cope. I think of the teachers and educators who comforted their students during a time when we all were grappling to understand the unfolding events. This also includes counselors, social workers and all those who make it their life’s work to improve life for others. These continue to be much needed roles in our community, and LCCC will continue to fulfill our mission by delivering the highest quality education that leads to well-prepared professionals that lift us all up.
Even with the passage of 20 years the memories of that day remain painful. There were many things the terrorists robbed us of in an instant. However, they were unable to take from us the basic qualities that make us Americans: resolve, resiliency and hope for a better future. As we face new challenges, I know our country will continue to grow and become better; just as we did in the days and months following 9/11. And I know our local communities are in good hands with the first responders, teachers, counselors and more who now stand ready to help us all, whatever each day may bring.
Lorain County Community College held a 9/11 remembrance event on Sept. 10, which included the unveiling of a Remembrance Display. The display includes blue flags in the shape of a star to represent the 2,977 people who tragically lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001. At the center of the star are four lights, representing each of the four planes. Using augmented reality on smart devices, visitors of the display can project a semi-translucent image of the Twin Towers, which appear to rise more than 50 feet above the ground.
There is a level of excitement that accompanies the start of each fall semester. It is a time of hope, a time of possibilities. But it also offers a time for reflection. A time to consider where we are in life and where we hope to go. A time to think about the lessons we have learned and how to apply them in ways that allow us to move forward in positive and constructive ways.
I’ve heard people say that you must go through the darkness to grow into the light. That the challenging times are what make us stronger, more resilient, and more able to tackle whatever life throws our way. And from what I am seeing from our students, they are more than ready for their next chapter. And we are ready to help them be successful.
Our students have grit – proven by the fact that more than 11,000 Lorain County Community College and University Partnership are returning to campus this week to pursue their dreams. LCCC students don’t sit back and wait for things to change; they push forward to reach their goals, and we are here to support them on their journey to success.
Jamie Morrow struggled for years to finish her degree and reached her goal with support from LCCC’s Advocacy and Resource Center. After completing her associate degree, she set her sights on earning a bachelor’s degree and is currently enrolled in LCCC’s University Partnership program with Hiram College. When asked about the lessons she hopes to instill in her children she said, “I hope they realize that no matter what mistakes you make, no matter how impossible a situation may seem, anything’s possible.”
Pablo Oquendo II was born with OCA2 (oculocutaneous albinism) with visual and hearing disabilities – as well as a fierce determination to achieve his goals. He earned at an associate of arts degree at the same time he graduated from Lorain High School in 2021 through LCCC’s College Credit Plus program. Along the way, he received support from his instructors at Lorain High and at LCCC, and also from LCCC’s Accessibility Services.
Like Jamie and Pablo, the LCCC students starting classes this semester are ready to work hard – and we are ready to support them. Our culture of care remains paramount to who we are as an institution and this past year has reaffirmed our deep commitment to meeting our students where they are.
So as we begin this fall semester, please join me in congratulating our students for their bravery, their dedication, and their willingness to step into the spotlight and focus on their education.
This is my video message I shared earlier today with LCCC students to welcome them to the new semester:
Commencement season is here – my favorite time of year! At educational institutions across the country, graduates are enjoying a well-deserved moment in the spotlight. As our country begins to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, those who achieved their goals during these trying times deserve extra praise and adulation.
At Lorain County Community College, we celebrated the class of 2021 with unforgettable tributes to our remarkable graduates. The graduating class includes 1,854 students earning 2,234 degrees and certificates, and an additional 365 graduates earning associate, bachelor’s or master’s degrees through LCCC’s University Partnership – the largest class in the 25-year history of the program. The class of 2021 also includes 94 students who earned an associate degree during the same year that they are graduating from high school through the Lorain County Early College High School and College Credit Plus programs. What’s more, 46% of this year’s graduates are the first in their families to earn a college degree.
National and state leaders congratulate LCCC graduates
Our LCCC celebration kicked off virtually on May 15 with our 57th LCCC Commencement Ceremony. This streamed event featured keynotes by U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona and Ohio Department of Higher Education Chancellor Randy Gardner. Having the nation’s and state’s senior higher education leaders speak directly to our students is an extraordinary testament to the fortitude and academic achievement of this year’s graduates.
In his highly personalized and heartfelt remarks, Dr. Cardona told LCCC graduates, “Go forward with courage, creativity and confidence.” It is sage advice for any graduate, and especially relevant for community college graduates at this moment in time.
In reaching the milestone of graduation, our students demonstrated courage. They saw the opportunity of education and stepped boldly toward their futures. As they adapted to a new normal of zoom calls, virtual advising and so much more, they revealed a creativity that no other class in history has demonstrated. And by setting a goal and achieving it, they gained the confidence needed to tackle any challenge they may find ahead. In short, the class of 2021 is remarkably resilient and will make an impact on our world like no other.
“You are making history today,” Gardner said to the MEMS graduates. “To the class of 2021, congratulations on your emerging life of value as a college graduate.”
Students’ success inspires our community
As we celebrate the class of 2021, I’m inspired by our students’ stories, which are as diverse as the community we serve. There are traditional students who came to their community college after high school, like Akua Agyemang – who will transfer to Yale University in the fall. There are adult students who are creating a bright future for themselves and their families, like Sienna Wright; those who were laid off due to COVID and decided to take advantage of retraining programs, like Gregory Stocker. And students who decided it was time that their career aligns with their passion, like Lyn Bruno. Each of these students came to LCCC with their own goals. By meeting them where they were, our LCCC faculty and staff were able to help them get where they want to be.
Doors of Opportunity open to bright futures
In honor and celebration of our diverse graduates and their accomplishments, LCCC built a large-scale public recognition display we call the Doors of Opportunity. These 21 full-sized doors line a grassy median stretching nearly 450 feet – longer than a football field. Every propped-open door bears a different word, symbolizing the unique journey each LCCC student took to reach graduation day.
By walking through the door, students not only found the right opportunity on LCCC’s campus, but the support and confidence to lead them into the next chapter of their lives. Every door includes an augmented reality video that shares the personal story of a graduate from each academic program. This innovative tribute celebrates each student’s resilient journey to become a college graduate. Many of our students face incredible challenges, and I’m honored that LCCC was there to help them reach their goals with services and support, delivered with an ever-present focus on equity.
With the graduation of the Class of 2021, LCCC is now 55.3% of the way toward achieving Vision 2025 strategic plan goal of 10,000 individuals earning degrees and certificates by the year 2025. These graduates are more prepared than ever to carve out their path in a new and changing world. Earning a college credential is a reliable way to move up the socio-economic ladder. With nearly half of our Class of 2021 graduates the first in their families to earn a college degree, the future of Lorain County and our entire region is looking brighter than ever.
April is Community College Month, providing a moment to broadly share the important impact of our nation’s community colleges.
Lorain County Community College was founded in 1963 to provide access to higher education for every person in Lorain County, regardless of their educational attainment or socioeconomic status. During the past 58 years, LCCC has impacted one in four Lorain County residents, equivalent to more than 50 percent of households, and conferred more than 50,000 degrees. And a recent focus on expanding high school dual enrollment through College Credit Plus has led to 43 percent of Lorain County high school seniors graduating with LCCC college credits, saving families $4.5 million in tuition during 2020.
As we celebrate National Community College month, I’d like to share what I believe makes LCCC, and other community colleges throughout our nation, so essential to creating a vibrant community. While our open access policy is a fundamental component of community colleges and has contributed to our large-scale impact on Lorain County families, it is the depth of our integration into local communities that sets our type of institution apart.
LCCC has maintained at its core, a student-centered philosophy. This means, that instead of expecting students to be “college ready” we focus on being “student ready” and meeting students where they are. This same approach also exists at the core of our work within the community. Whether creating partnerships with local non-profits or building a network of employers to help design relevant and effective academic programs to meet talent needs, we approach this work by also meeting companies and organizations where they are. Collectively, this has woven LCCC throughout the fabric of our community. In fact, I love to point out that “unity” is at the heart of “community” in Lorain County Community College. Unity is in our name, in our work, and in our hearts.
This sustaining impact on our county has been made even more profound during the trials of the past year. While the coronavirus pandemic has kept us physically distant for more than a year, LCCC has helped to maintain our community’s togetherness and move our region forward. In this era of rapid change, we found new ways to deliver classes, connect with community organizations and provide pathways to economic recovery for those hit hardest by the pandemic and economic crisis. In essence, we have met the community where they are – blending our culture of rapid adaptation with our culture of care to best address these evolving needs.
Locally, like many regions in the country, the most pressing need centers around solutions to COVID-19 related job loss. Our response was to work with industry and quickly scale up our Fast Track training program, which has helped many people, like Simone Yalanty, find new hope.
The Fast Track program focuses on in-demand fields such as business, computer and information technology, healthcare and manufacturing – well-paying industries with projected job growth in the coming years. Students are able to quickly retrain for a new career, earn a short-term certificate and make important connections with employers looking to hire – all in 16 short weeks and tuition free.
Over the course of the past year, more than 400 people earned credentials through the Fast Track program. And nearly half of those people are continuing their education with LCCC or the University Partnership. This program, and others like it are already making an impact on Lorain County’s workforce.
Just like Fast Track is designed with the end goal of sustainable employment in mind, our University Partnership helps local residents earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees with significant cost savings – often averaging $74,000 in savings. With more than 100 programs offered through 14 partner colleges and universities, the University Partnership has successfully raised the educational attainment in Lorain County since 1995. And this May, we will honor the first graduates of our applied bachelor’s degree in Micro-Electrical Mechanical Systems.
Ingenuity and the ability to quickly adapt are hallmarks of LCCC and of our region. By listening to the true needs of our community, we have learned much, with still more ground yet to cover. But as we begin to see light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, I feel hopeful. Our community is reshaping its future, making purposeful changes in a forever-altered world. I pledge that LCCC will continue to serve as a leader and catalyst to help our students, our economy and entire community emerge stronger and better.
February is Black History Month and as I spend these weeks remembering, reflecting, listening and learning about the many leaders in our history, I am even more solidified in Lorain County Community College’s commitment to support Black students, and all underrepresented groups, as we strive for equity in all we do.
It’s LCCC’s promise to stand firm to challenge injustice in all forms and to facilitate positive change within our community. This process begins at home, with our own students, faculty, staff and administrators. It’s work we have been doing for years, and I am proud of the progress we have made thus far. I also acknowledge there is still much to be done.
Striving for Equity
Guiding LCCC in our pursuit of equity is Achieving the Dream (ATD), the nation’s most comprehensive organization in advancing student success and equity. LCCC joined ATD in 2011 and is one of only 11 colleges to earn ATD’s Leader College of Distinction status. In 2020, LCCC was named the Leah Meyer Austin winner, ATD’s top prize reserved for network colleges that show greatest, sustained improvements in student outcomes and student success. Through working with ATD, LCCC has made great strides in narrowing equity gaps for students in underserved populations.
Each February, ATD hosts the DREAM Conference, a convening of more than 300 member colleges that allows us to come together to share successes, learn from challenges, and get inspired through student stories. This year, a student who shared her remarkable story was LCCC’s own Nikita Johnson. Nikita was named a 2021 DREAM Scholar – just one of eight students in the country to receive this honor.
Nikita’s story is one of resilience, struggle, power and beauty. A single mother to four children, Nikita is breaking the cycle of poverty for herself and her family through education. She’ll earn her associate of arts this May and will continue through LCCC’s University Partnership with Youngstown State University to earn a bachelor’s degree in social work. Watch the video at the end of this post to learn more Nikita via her autobiographical poem “I am from.”
By drawing on her own strength and resolve, Nikita came to her community college to reach her goal of improving her circumstance. It was through LCCC’s Equity Team that Nikita found her voice and a passion for sharing her story as a way to help others. The Equity Team includes faculty, staff and students who work to ensure that LCCC’s commitment to equity is achieved through improving success for students from marginalized and underrepresented populations.
Learning from the data
The Equity Team is one way we are tapping into the voice of students as we fulfill the college’s mission to serve all people of Lorain County. That mission goes back to LCCC’s founding in 1963; however, it was in 2011 that we began to truly understand the need to shift our focus to the big picture of equity, campus culture and student success. It was then that LCCC joined Achieving the Dream and began to dive deeply into student data, dissecting from all angles and applying a lens of equity.
Through this process, we discovered significant achievement gaps between minority students and white students. Not only were Black and African American students not earning degrees at the same rate as their white peers, they were also not persisting from semester to semester in the same ways.
Seeing those statistics was a lightbulb moment for our institution. Once the data illuminated the inequities, we became laser-focused on addressing them. The more we peeled back the data, the more obvious it became that it was time to completely rethink how we approached student success. As a response, we turned our campus culture upside down. Instead of waiting for students to be college-ready, we became a student-ready college.
Shifting our culture
This new mindset led to a holistic model of student services that fosters student success. We rebuilt academic pathways, redesigned our advising model, and focused on building wrap-around services that support the whole student. We call it our Culture of Care. And it’s working.
In the decade since that initial dive into the data, graduation attainment for LCCC’s Black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx students has nearly quadrupled. Across the board, students in all demographics are now graduating at more than twice the volume they were 10 years ago.
A major component in closing equity gaps is the expansion of LCCC’s College Credit Plus (CCP) and dual enrollment programs for Lorain County high school students. These popular programs allow high school students to earn college credit at no cost to their families– with many easily accessible options including college classes taught inside local high schools. The CCP and dual enrollment programs are so successful that last year 43 percent of all Lorain County high school graduates earned LCCC credit before they graduated high school. That includes nearly 25 percent of Black/African American high school graduates and 26 percent of Hispanic/Latinx graduates.
That early touch point builds momentum for students – many who are the first in their family to attend college. In fact, 85 percent of Lorain County high school graduates who earned LCCC dual enrollment credit continued in higher education (compared the national average of 70 percent of high school students who immediately enrolled in college) – including 27 percent who continued with LCCC after high school.
As an ATD Leader College of Distinction and the 2020 Leah Meyer Austin award winner, I am proud of the progress LCCC has made in closing equity gaps. But we won’t stop here. I am committed to continually evolving our Culture of Care, with a focus on equity and student success. This means actively listening to our students and understanding the barriers they face. And it means we must continue to honestly and openly talk with our students and community, even in difficult discussions.
I’m so proud of how far LCCC has come in the past decade. It’s humbling to lead a community college where faculty and staff demonstrate unprecedented level of compassion and care for our students. We are helping to make every student’s dream real, now and for decades to come.