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.LCCC Community College Month

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.Simone Yalanty leans on a railing on the LCCC campus

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.