There are moments in time that leave marks on your heart – a few split seconds so remarkable that you know you have to take a minute to breathe it all in. I’ve been lucky enough to have quite a few of those moments lately.

The most recent of these was during Lorain County Community College’s 54th Commencement ceremony.  We celebrated a class of 2,018 graduates – yes, 2,018 graduates in the year 2018! – and the many discoveries they’ve made about themselves along their path to a degree. As we cheered for the graduates, and the final glimmer of confetti hit the floor, I found myself truly overcome by the elation in the room and the great pride I feel for our students. Everything our students work toward culminates at graduation – the long hours studying, the times they pushed through doubt and the support they receive from our campus. LCCC is the melting pot of our community, and as I looked out on the cheering crowd of graduates comprised of all ages, races and socio-economic statuses, I was filled with joy for their success and hope for the future our community.

We celebrated a class of 2,018 graduates at the LCCC 2018 Commencement Ceremony.

Earlier this year, I felt that same sense of esteem when I heard LCCC was announced as the national winner of the Award of Excellence in Student Success from the American Association of Community Colleges.  I was in attendance at the AACC conference in Dallas when our college’s name was called out and I’ll never forget that feeling of delight for our college, for our students and for our community. At LCCC, student success is everyone’s business and we’ve infused that focus into every facet of the student experience, from redesigned advising models to creating program and career pathways that always keep the students’ end goals in sight – while saving them time and money along the way.

The American Association of Community College 2018 Award of Excellence in Student Success.

That mindset translates to LCCC students having the highest three-year degree completion rate in Ohio for two years running. Additionally, students who transfer from LCCC to a four-year university have a higher rate of degree completition than students who did all four years at a typical university. That focus on student success directly led to our largest ever graduating class this year, and I know they will continue to discover paths for themselves.

After they graduate or transfer, our students go on to great things. Many keep in touch with me – and I love that! Some students, however, have phenomenal stories that I have discovered almost by accident. One such person is Michael Brown, who was a featured speaker at the American Association of Community College Trustees conference that I attended last October. I had never met Michael Brown and I was certainly not expecting the chain of events that unfolded. During his remarks, I heard him mention the state of Ohio, and The Ohio State University. He then mentioned that he began his education at a community college in Northeast Ohio – and I just knew at that moment that he was an #LCCCProud alum – even before he announced that he grew up in Grafton and attended LCCC.

After Brown’s speech, I introduced myself to him and heard the amazing story of how he started at LCCC and is now the president of Barrick Gold USA. After attending LCCC in the late 1970s, Brown earned a bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University and an MBA from The George Washington University. He worked in the US Treasury and now for the largest gold mining company in the world – and yet he regretted that he did not earn his associate degree from LCCC before he transferred to OSU.

Brown joined me on stage during LCCC’s Commencement ceremony and delivered a keynote speech that was thought provoking, inspiring and downright funny! He encouraged the graduates to be bold, to make a stand for social justice, and to never forget their roots. During Commencement, I presented him with his associate of arts degree from his first alma mater, LCCC. Seeing the genuine happiness and joy on his face was a moment I will not soon forget.

Michael Brown and me after the commencement ceremony.

Brown told the crowd that the 2018 Commencement ceremony was actually the second LCCC graduation he had attended. While a student at LCCC, he served as a student senator and was required to attend the 1978 graduation ceremony, even though he was a class short of earning a degree himself. The sting he felt 40 years ago as he watched his classmates cross the stage and earn their degrees was still present, he said. Even though he went on to earn advanced degrees, he always wished he had completed his first degree. With his continued college coursework, Brown met the requirements to earn his associate degree and it was an honor for me to a part of his full-circle moment, as he received the degree that began his path of discovery.

All of these life-is-good moments I’ve had over the past several months all come back to student success – the core of who we are at LCCC. I believe that every student’s dream matters and helping students reach their goals in a quick and affordable manner is the hallmark of our campus. I look forward to what the realized dreams of our graduates will bring to our campus, our community and our world.

If you’ve had a life-is-good moment lately, I’d like to hear about it. Tweet me @PresBallinger or email me at president@lorainccc.edu.

Building a Support System to Empower Women

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, I’m reminded of the sentiment that has become wildly popular in recent years:

She believed she could, so she did.

A woman’s mind is an unrelenting force once it is set on an objective. But before a woman can reach the “so she did,” she must first begin with “she believed she could.” As president of your community college, I make an effort to encourage everyone – especially women – to reach for their dreams because every dream matters.

How do we help a woman move from the first step to goal achievement? The answer, I believe, is in building a strong support system. In fact, I propose we update that adage to recognize the vital component of support:

She believed she could, she built a support system, and so she did.

I recently had the honor of meeting Sharonda Hall, a woman from Lorain. Over the past two years, Sharonda has changed her life – and went from making $12 an hour at factory job to making more than $30 an hour at Columbia Gas and becoming a first-time homeowner. I asked Sharonda what the difference is in her life between two years ago and today. Her answer: Believing in herself.

Dr. Ballinger stands in the center of Sharonda and Ariana.
A photo from my meeting with Sharonda and her daughter, Ariana.

She believed she could …

Like most of us, Sharonda’s life has had many ups and downs. She attended LCCC right after high school in 2001 but left before earning a degree because life happened. She started back several years later, but withdrew due to family obligations. By 2016, she was in her 30s and had two children depending on her. She was earning just above minimum wage at a factory, but her expenses didn’t leave much left over for planning for the future.

“It paid the bills but it wasn’t enough to move forward,” she told me about her paychecks.

She felt stuck. And, more than anything, she felt alone. When she was younger, she said, she had support from all around her. Once she was an adult with children, that support faded.

When a friend sent her information about the WE3 program, she was skeptical.

“At first, I didn’t have an open mind. I thought I didn’t have time for this,” she told me. Furthermore, she worried that a decade-old felony on her record would prevent her from finding a better job.

The WE3 (Women Empowered, Educated and Employed) program is a United Way community collaborative focused on helping hard-working single moms increase their earning capacity and become economically secure. LCCC is the lead partner in the 12-organization partnership. More than 30 percent of Lorain County families headed by single mothers are living in poverty. The six-week WE3 program seeks to empower these women with the tools to improve their economic condition. At the end of each WE3 reporting period, more than 50 percent of the participants find gainful employment and several enroll in college or vocational training. In 2017, 58 women completed the WE3 program, participating in three cohorts held throughout the year.

Helping these women improve their families’ current economic conditions is critical for the future. A study by the Equality of Opportunity project found that a child born in Lorain County to a family with an income in the bottom 20 percent has just a five percent chance of making it to the top of the income ladder by the time they reach adulthood. (I talked about this study in depth in a previous blog.)

She built a support system …

What Sharonda found when she walked through the doors at WE3 was a community of women ready to lift her up.

“The women at WE3 were friendly, welcoming and supportive. Seeing that there are people who want me to be successful, who embrace me and my kids: that experience was like nothing I’d ever felt before,” she said.

For those engulfed in generational poverty, believing they are capable of moving up the economic ladder can be a challenging first step. That’s where community organizations make all the difference. It’s my personal belief community colleges and other organizations must meet people where they are; to adjust and adapt to the needs of the students and people they serve. In Sharonda’s case, that meant WE3 meeting in her community, and providing the supports she needed, such as a childcare and job training.

The immediate support from WE3, including from Cynthia Andrews, who at the time was the executive director of Oberlin Community Services and is now president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Lorain County, and LaToya Miller, WE3 project coordinator at LCCC, helped Sharonda shift her mindset from feeling stuck to feeling empowered.

“Cindy and the others saw in me what I hadn’t seen in myself. They helped me become a positive person,” Sharonda said.

WE3 participants undergo job skill preparation and learn to look for jobs that may be outside of their current comfort zones. When the group heard about job openings for field technicians at Columbia Gas, Sharonda was intrigued. She likes working with her hands and finding solutions to problems. The fact that the position came with a company car was an added bonus, she said.

The application process was rigorous. Math test. Personality test. Strength test. She made it through the initial rounds and was invited to orientation.

“Here I was in a room of 50 people, and I was the only woman,” Sharonda recalled. “But it was okay. I knew what to expect because WE3 prepared me for being the only woman in that room.”

She landed the job and began work in April 2017. She’s already had several promotions and said she is far from reaching her maximum potential. At her workplace, Sharonda’s found another support system.

“Columbia Gas is a family. They want you to succeed. This is not a job for right now, it’s a career for a lifetime,” she said.

Four women talk while sitting on two couches.
WE3 Coordinator LaToya Miller, Sharonda, Ariana and I talked about the importance of women supporting women.

And so she did.

Sharonda bought a house last year. Prior to WE3, homeownership hadn’t crossed her mind. With her career at Columbia Gas, she found herself thinking of buying a home, but she didn’t know where to start. Again, she turned to her mentors at WE3 who guided her in the process.

The day I met Sharonda was her daughter Ariana’s 18th birthday. Ariana is a senior in Lorain County Early College High School – a tuition-free, four-year combined high school and college experience located on the LCCC campus. When Ariana graduates in May, she’ll earn her high school diploma and an associate degree at the same time, and I know that Sharonda will be in the front row cheering her on. Ariana will be the first in their family to earn a college degree. She’s been accepted to The Ohio State University and will study international business and accounting. After she crosses the stage at graduation, the family will come home to celebrate.

“We will have her graduation party at our home,” Sharonda said with pride.

Sharonda and her daughter, Ariana, smiling.
Ariana will graduate from Lorain County Early College High School in May.

 

Now that Sharonda has found success through WE3, LCCC and her employment, she is ready to be a support system for other women. She encourages the single mothers she knows to give WE3 a try – it could be the push they need to start believing in themselves. And once a woman believes in herself, anything is possible.

“WE3 means empowering women for success. It means building a sisterhood,” she said.

“I used to worry if I would be able to pay my bills. I worried if I would be able to eat. Now I’m not stressed,” she told me. “WE3 changed my life. I believe in myself now and this is just the beginning for me.”

In other words: Sharonda believed she could, she built a support system, and so she did.

Are you building a support system? Or are you supporting other women? I want to hear your story! You can find me on Twitter, Instagram or email me at president@lorainccc.edu.

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 www.lorainccc.edu/connection 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 www.lorainccc.edu/cupboard.

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.