At Lorain County Community College, it’s my goal to provide all people with the opportunity to earn a degree that helps them fulfill their dreams. For today’s college student, getting from the start line to the finish line is rarely a straight road. For most students, there are stops, starts, zigzags and barriers along the way. The things that can help students keep going are personal connections with someone on campus paired with the right support services. As president, that’s why I’ve made it a priority at LCCC that our culture of caring delivers each student an equitable opportunity to earn a degree. It’s about LCCC being student-ready.
A Dream That Keeps Truckin’
For more than a decade, Shontae Jackson from Lorain took LCCC classes as her schedule and her life circumstances permitted. As a mother of three children, she had a lot on her plate, but she dreamed of owning her own food truck. When a life change caused her to get serious about completing her degree, she returned to LCCC determined to make her dream a reality. While she had the personal commitment and drive to succeed, she also benefited from a mentorship from LCCC’s culinary program director Adam Schmith who saw in her a spark for creating complicated dishes with ease. By connecting with LCCC’s student business support center, NEO LaunchNET, Shontae soon found herself the owner and operator of the Steel Magnolia food truck. And when she needed help staffing the truck, her classmates in the culinary program volunteered their time and skills to support their friend and classmate.
SAILing Past Road Blocks
When Jared Jones graduated from Vermilion High School in 2015 he felt unsure about starting college. When he applied to LCCC’s Student Accelerating in Learning (SAIL) program, he found the customized support he was looking for. Jared was excelling in his courses when he was faced with a serious heart condition that required two surgeries. He then was forced to deal with the death of two grandparents – all in the same semester. Setbacks like these can cause a student to leave college and not return. For Jared, it was his connections with his instructors and his SAIL advisor, Cynthia Arrendondo, who helped him move past the road blocks he faced and continue his education. He’s now back in the classroom and maintaining his high GPA on the way to earning an associate of arts degree.
A Dreamer with a Goal
Corina Barranco was only 5 years old when she and her family walked from Mexico into the United States and eventually settled in Lorain, hoping for a better life. As she completed her senior year at Lorain High School in May of 2018, she dreamed of attending LCCC to study police science. Corina excelled in her high school classes and qualified for an LCCC scholarship, but she was afraid to apply. As a DACA recipient, or Dreamer, she faces unique challenges with financial aid. Corina’s story was chronicled in Time’s story “A Dreamer’s Life,” including the hardships she faced in funding her college education. The attention received widespread attention and community members flooded the LCCC Foundation office with financial donations to ensure Corina would have the opportunity to earn a college degree. The monetary support was so great, in fact, that a new LCCC scholarship was created specifically for students like Corina. Thanks to the community and our financial services team, Corina is now enrolled in her first semester at LCCC.
Like Shontae, Jared and Corina, each student’s experience is unique, and each person requires individual support to help them reach their goals. At LCCC, providing equitable, tailored support has been a hallmark of our campus culture for years. The populations we serve at LCCC are as varied as our program offerings and include students of all ages, races and socio-economic demographics, and many are tasked with nontraditional college student roles, such as raising a family and working full-time jobs. In fact, research shows that nearly 74 percent of all undergraduate students in the country have at least one factor that qualifies them as “nontraditional” students. When these students enter the classroom, they bring with them all the qualities that make them unique, again confirming that a one-size-fits-all approach does not apply in higher education. This objective takes us back to the roots of LCCC, which was founded in 1963 with the goal of creating equity of opportunity for everyone in Lorain County through higher education.
Moving the Needle
By proactively meeting students where they are in their personal and academic journey, the college has increased the overall number of degrees and certificates awarded by 79 percent since 2011. Through intentional design and a culture of caring and support, the number of degrees awarded to Hispanic/Latino students increased by 149 percent during that time, and the number of degrees awarded to black/African American students increased 123 percent.
While I’m proud that we are moving the needle, we recognize that there is still a distance to go as we continue to shift our focus to equity of outcomes.
With our focus on equity and individualized service, we invited Dr. Tia McNair to our fall Convocation to share her views on the need for higher education institutions to become student-ready. Taking the dated view that students must be college-ready prior to enrolling in courses and flipping it around, McNair challenges each college to become student-ready and be prepared to support individuals in the ways they need. By changing the focus and responsibility from the student to the college, we are able to laser-focus our sights on continuing to develop our culture of caring at LCCC.
It’s my belief that every student’s dream matters, no matter where they begin their journey or what barriers they may face along the way. By focusing on equity, our campus is able to break down barriers that students face while also bolstering their potential and confidence – leading to a positive future for individuals and a prosperous future for our community.
And that’s what it’s all about: providing the right support for each student so they can focus on achieving their dreams.
Have you experienced a culture of caring, or are you working toward equity? Tell me about your experience on Twitter at @PresBallinger. I’d love to hear from you.
Read more about the students we serve at LCCC on our new stories page: www.lorainccc.edu/stories.