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.
As we begin a new semester at Lorain County Community College and a new calendar year, many are anxious to close the door on 2020 and return to “normal.” While I agree that last year presented a number of challenges that we continue to face, this is also a time of great discovery. Albert Einstein said, “In the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity.” This year we have come together in new ways to meet unprecedented challenges. In doing so, we have created innovative opportunities and solutions. So, instead of a “return to normal,” I am optimistic and energized about a new, better future ahead. This level of enthusiasm comes from the remarkable resilience I’ve witnessed from our students, our campus and our community.
Learning by Listening
With so much noise in the world right now, one of the most powerful actions we can take is to actively listen to those we serve. Listening allows us to not only determine how we can best fulfill our values to educate, adapt, lead and inspire; it allows us to reflect upon what has enabled our students and our community to persevere.
The resiliency of our students is inspiring, but it’s not surprising. LCCC students have bold goals and they have grit – that special strength of character that allows a person to dig deep during the most trying times and persist. Over and over again, our students break barriers and move boldly to determine their own futures. For some, that means changing plans in order to stay safe and save money in uncertain times. For other students, it means seeking career training in a new field after losing their job or juggling the role of mother, student and employee all at once. Whatever the circumstances that bring students to their community college, all have the opportunity to continue their education to earn a bachelor’s or a master’s degree from LCCC’s University Partnership.
The grit our students show is astonishing, however, grit alone is not required to find success at LCCC. Helping students break barriers is in our DNA. That’s why we made strategic changes based on direct student feedback, identifying the challenges that are impeding their academic progress – such as food insecurity and mental health needs. So, we extended hours and increased virtual appointments for both the Advocacy and Resource Center and the Commodore Cupboard food pantry. With the help of our community, we expanded the availability of emergency aid for students. Additionally, I’ve committed that every student will have access to the technology they need for their classes. These measures and more are working, as we see students persist from semester to semester, even during a global health crisis.
What’s more, many students are shining their resilient lights outward into our community, lifting spirits and bringing hope in dark times. Students in LCCC’s Psi Beta psychology honor society spread kindness and joy to residents of a local nursing home. Recent nursing graduate Alexis Costello warmed the hearts and hands of those in need through a glove donation drive. And countless other students donated to food and clothing drives. I call these acts of caring “mission moments” – the true embodiment of LCCC’s mission in action. These students used their grit to continue their own education and found the strength of character to uplift others in need, doing their part to create a vibrant community.
Here’s more about Psi Beta’s mission moment:
Over the past year I have listened to our students through virtual coffee chats, surveys and open forums designed to check in and identify ways we can improve as an organization. However, I recognize that while our students are an extension of our community, there are many others that we serve in different ways that we hold equally close such as our community partners, local employers and citizens.
When I became president of LCCC in 2016, I leaned in hard on this conviction: You can’t lead a community that you don’t love, and you can’t love a community that you don’t know.
I believe the best way to get to know a community is to ask questions. At the start of the pandemic, we reached out to each student to assess their needs. Based on their feedback, we were able to build or expand services to support them. Now, as we move past the emergency response phase, we rely again on our most basic principle: listening to our community to understand how to best serve their changing needs and help seize opportunities that will make our community stronger.
For this purpose, I reopened our strategic visioning process in a phase we call Reimagining LCCC. We last updated LCCC’s strategic plan in 2019 – just two years ago. But it is clear, given the events and accelerated change of the last 10 months, it was time to reconnect and better understand how this moment in time can and will shape our future. During the past three months, we hosted 54 Reimagining listening sessions with more than 500 stakeholders, including students, employees, community and industry partners and citizens. Each provided important feedback on how Lorain County Community College can best fulfill our mission as the community’s college going forward. This process will continue with a refreshed vision and plan emerging later this spring.
Listening and responding to our community’s needs is who we are; it’s why we were founded as the first community college in Ohio in 1963. For nearly 60 years, the college has delivered on that promise, through the most prosperous times as well as the most challenging times. It is my promise that LCCC will continue to listen, adapt and act to prepare us for the best and brightest future we can imagine.
There are some things in life that are meant to be. The designation of 2020 as the Year of the Nurse is one of those things. Even before the coronavirus pandemic struck in early 2020, this year was designated as the Year of the Nurse by the World Health Organization in honor of the 200th birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.
Nightingale revolutionized the nursing world with a focus on the patient experience and delivering medical care to the highest standards. While medical technology has advanced considerably over the past two centuries, what has remained constant is the need for high quality-health care in our communities, and for local people to have access to education programs in healthcare fields.
The need for local nurses
Providing our region with top-notch nursing programs close to home was so important to our community that when Lorain County Community College was founded in 1963, nursing degrees were among the first programs offered. Over the years, thousands of local residents have earned nursing credentials from LCCC, including the associate degree in nursing (RN), Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) and State Tested Nursing Assistant (STNA). Our LCCC programs are delivered by world-class faculty members who are experts in their field, including 60% of LCCC full-time nursing faculty members with a doctoral degree.
Additionally, LCCC’s University Partnership delivers advanced degrees in nursing from Ohio universities, including Ohio University (RN to BSN), Youngstown State University (bachelor’s in allied health), and Western Governor’s University (RN to BSN, and several options for master’s degrees in nursing). These programs from LCCC and the University Partnership are tailored to meet the needs of local hospitals and healthcare organizations, leading to a high employment rate for LCCC graduates.
In fact, in just the last 10 years, more than 2,400 people have earned nursing degrees from LCCC. And because 85% of all LCCC graduates live and work in the region, the students trained on our campus become the nurses serving our community. Each day, LCCC nursing alumni answer the call to help their friends, family, neighbors and strangers navigate some of the most challenging health issues. This is true every year, but it is especially true this year, the Year of the Nurse and the year of COVID-19. Here is a video we created to thank our healthcare workers and first responders and show support during these trying times.
Nursing students adjust to changes
As the pandemic rages on, nurses have continually sacrificed themselves in service of others. And it’s the nurses who are coming up in the field – those who are taking on their training with the knowledge of what lies ahead – for whom I feel the utmost gratitude. To see our current healthcare crisis and feel compelled to step up to the challenge is truly remarkable.
Not only do LCCC’s nursing students face a career path that is evolving daily, they also are navigating an education landscape that changed overnight due to the pandemic. In the face of these changes and so many more, our LCCC nursing students have doubled down on their resolve to help others through their education in the nursing field.
Danielle Wagner was in her final semester of the LCCC nursing program when the pandemic hit Ohio full force in March. Despite changes to the delivery of her classes, Danielle felt an urge stronger than ever to complete her degree and help others during this trying time. Danielle graduated in May 2020 with her associate degree in nursing as part of the largest graduating class in the history of LCCC. She passed her state exams soon after and is now working in her dream career at University Hospitals’ main campus in the neuro ICU stepdown unit. Earning her nursing degree at LCCC was challenging, but she says her professors pushed her to be the best and she is now applying those skills to help patients every day.
Danielle was one of 91 nursing students to earn their associate degree in May 2020. The graduating class also included Yecenia Rivera, who followed in the footsteps of her son, Anthony, who earned his nursing degree in December 2019. With decades of experience at various levels of nursing, Yecenia was excited to continue her life’s passion of caring for others. Beginning a healthcare career during a pandemic wasn’t a concern for Anthony. In fact, he says he’s thriving as an RN at Mercy Hospital in Lorain, where he has been working since March.
Current LCCC nursing student Carys Trubach also said the pandemic has shown her she chose the right career. Carys is on track to graduate in December and she can’t wait to get to work. She aspires to work in oncology, bringing relief and care to cancer patients. Thinking about her career, she says, “I look forward to helping patients each day through their hardest days.”
As this unforgettable year nears a close, we look to the future as nearly 90 new RNs will graduate from LCCC in December. These resilient students will enter the workforce well prepared and more determined than ever to make a positive impact in our community. The future is unknown, but the stories of these brave women and men give me hope. I know that no matter what challenges lie ahead, our community will continue to rely on skilled nurses to keep us healthy and safe – and LCCC will continue to provide the education that prepares those nurses for their careers.
To learn more about how Northeast Ohio is celebrating the Year of the Nurse, visit the web page hosted by Case Western Reserve University. The page includes a new blog posted each day from a local nurse, including many LCCC graduates and current students.
Recent months have brought rapid change in nearly every area of life, work, and education. And while it can be easy to focus on the challenges, I find it is important to pivot to the positive. In this age of acceleration, Lorain County Community College is proving to be more adept than ever at serving the evolving needs of the community and our local economy.
A path to economic recovery
One of the many ways we do this is through certified apprenticeships and Earn and Learn models. These customized programs are developed through close partnerships with local industry and allow students to earn a wage and gain job experience while they complete their credentials. As the workforce reels from layoffs brought on by the pandemic, many students cannot afford to delay earning a paycheck while they retrain for a new career and these programs meet that need.
LCCC’s employer relationships are especially important in our country’s current financial climate, as many people find themselves needing to retrain for a new career. A recent column in the New York Times highlighted community colleges’ role in economic recovery, with employer partnerships representing a critical piece of the puzzle. Community colleges can and must bridge the gap to train a new workforce, partnering with employers and innovators to train workers for careers that meet local needs and pay good wages. At LCCC, this is one of the things we do best.
Celebrating Manufacturing Month
As we begin Manufacturing Month, LCCC is celebrating more than 20 years of successful apprenticeship programs with local industry, including Ford Motor Co., General Motors and the United Auto Workers union (UAW). We also celebrate many new apprenticeships and Earn and Learn programs that are changing the way students train and the way companies recruit talent. In the past year alone, LCCC has developed new apprenticeships in several manufacturing areas, including masonry technology, pipefitting and boiler making.
Many of our programs connect students to careers with employers in the Lorain County Manufacturing Sector Partnership (LCMSP). This employer-led group is growing the talent pipeline while increasing opportunities for job-seekers. To highlight the many benefits of manufacturing careers, LCCC is partnering with LCMSP for a virtual Manufacturing Month event for students and adults on October 22.
Manufacturing and beyond
Expanding the idea of apprenticeships beyond manufacturing careers is of utmost importance as our region navigates the current economic climate. To best serve additional students and the local economy, LCCC is trailblazing new focus areas for apprenticeships, such as health care and computer information systems. In fact, just this semester LCCC launched Ohio’s first paramedic apprenticeship with LifeCare Ambulance, Inc. In 2019, we introduced the state’s first State Tested Nursing Assistant (STNA) apprenticeship.
LCCC is a trailblazer in many areas, and our Earn and Learn model is no different. LCCC delivers Ohio’s first and only microelectronic manufacturing (MEMS) applied bachelor’s degree offered by a community college, as well as associate degree and certificate programs, with paid internships serving as a key component of the curriculum. The college also offers Earn and Learn programs in automation engineering technologies and cyber and information systems. Each program gives students the opportunity to make meaningful connections with local employers who are looking to hire skilled workers, and many students are hired full time by those same employers upon graduation.
Earn and Learn programs can be life-changing experiences for students. MEMS student Corbet Keith landed a full-time job in the MEMS field while still enrolled in his associate degree program. And tool and die apprentice Louis Bernard discovered his passion for learning through LCCC’s partnership with Elyria Plastic Products.
The roots of apprenticeship and manufacturing run deep in Lorain County, and LCCC is proud to help advance manufacturing throughout the 21st century. Through apprenticeships, Earn and Learn, and other partnerships with local employers, we will continue to develop programs that benefit students, businesses, and the local economy.
This is it. A new academic year and a new semester begins today at Lorain County Community College. And while this semester is a bit different than previous years, the excitement and energy in our students, staff, faculty and administrators remain high.
We’ve been working all summer to prepare for this moment, as we welcome back returning students who continue to work toward their goals; and we welcome for the first time our new students, just starting their educational journey.
And this year, we also welcome many students who planned to be elsewhere this semester but changed their plans in order to stay home and stay safe. With the option to take online classes through a four-university – with a four-year university price tag – or take online classes at LCCC’s low tuition rate, many students found choosing their community college to be an easy decision. Students like Paige Dillen, who a few months ago was prepared to attend a university and live on campus. The coronavirus pandemic caused her to rethink her plans, and now she’s looking forward to completing her first years at LCCC on a Trustee Award scholarship before she transfers.
“One of the biggest benefits of LCCC is how many opportunities you are presented with, at a low cost,” Paige said. “I would prefer to take online classes for free than for a couple thousand dollars.”
And by staying on track, rather than taking a year off, LCCC students like Paige will graduate sooner and earn more during their careers. A new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows that delaying college for a year could cost those who would’ve graduated in 2024 $90,000 in lifetime earnings.
A career earnings gap that wide makes a significant impact on the upward mobility of our students, their families and our community. That’s one of the reasons why we’ve worked diligently to adjust and re-invent the LCCC student experience in this COVID world. To help our students persist in their education, we are navigating a new world, adapting to a new normal and blazing the trail for what the future holds. Through everything, the core of our focus can be summarized in LCCC’s Three Guiding Principles: Safety, Stability, and Student Success.
Health and safety are the cornerstones of each decision made for the new semester. To keep our LCCC family safe, the majority of classes this fall semester will be delivered online, including a new option for online live classes, which meet virtually at a designated time each week and allow students to interact with their professor and classmates.
These varied course delivery methods are one of the ways we’ve adapted this semester to meet the needs of our community. We know the pandemic has brought many hardships for our students, including food insecurity and financial struggles. To ensure every student has what they need to succeed, we’ve adopted what I call the LCCC Promise: a pledge that no student will go hungry or without the technology needed for their classes. These services and much more are available through LCCC’s Advocacy and Resource Center (ARC), our one-stop connection point for student resources.
Delivering top notch academic programs and student services while operating on a modest budget is a cornerstone of our institution. In the current economic downturn, state funding for higher education remains uncertain – especially for community colleges. To meet this challenge, our administrative team has prepared for continued reductions in state funding, while continuing to offer high quality programs to our students at a low tuition rate. This financial stability is what has driven LCCC’s long history of serving our community, and I have every confidence that it will continue.
By applying resources with a focus on equity, we are prepared to meet each student where they are and ensure they have every opportunity to achieve their goals in this new semester and beyond. These ideals were reinforced by Dr. Karen Stout, President and CEO of Achieving the Dream, in her keynote address to LCCC faculty and staff during our virtual Convocation program. Dr. Stout’s wisdom and enthusiasm reignited in each of us the drive to reimagine what the future holds for our college and our students.
“This is the moment for community colleges,” Dr. Stout said. “This is the moment for Lorain County Community College. This is the moment for you to bring leadership and excellence to your community and to the country. This is the moment to make more Dreams come true.”
This is an unprecedented time, and it’s also an exciting time. As each student begins class today, they are seizing the moment and investing in a better future – for themselves, for their families and for our community. I can’t wait to see what they achieve.
Let’s get started.
Here is a video message I shared with students earlier today to welcome them to the new semester.
When all Ohio college campuses closed in March, higher education changed on a dime. In a matter of days Lorain County Community College (LCCC), along with every other educational institution in the state, moved our entire curriculum online. From course lectures to advising sessions to our campus bookstore, everything went virtual.
And when we anticipated this shift presenting challenges for our students, we got creative. Like our students always do, we showed our resolve and innovation and came together to help them succeed in this new environment.
Together, we made it through a time when every day seemed to bring new changes, challenges and uncertainties. As we move into summer and then a new fall semester, many students and members of our community are left wondering, what’s next. What will this institution look like and be in the days, months and even years to come?
While no one holds all the answers or complete foresight into our future, I know what will drive LCCC now and in the future – our steadfast focus on students’ success.
Being steady amid the swirl
The uncertainty COVID-19 hurtled into our community months ago remains. According to the American Council on Education, 17 percent of students nationwide do not plan to return to a college campus. And a Simpson Scarborough report states that 1 in 10 high school seniors who were planning to attend a four-year college or university before the pandemic have already made alternative plans – nearly half of those have said they will enroll at a community college. This “swirl” movement has caused many to take a closer look at the strategy behind attending community colleges.
But LCCC and community colleges across Ohio have a response to the swirl: Year 1 at Home. This new state-wide effort among two-year institutions will help 2020 high school graduates find certainty and safety as they enter college. LCCC is ready. We are ready to welcome students who, just a few weeks ago, were prepared to call another college or university home for the next four years. Students like Sydney Contreras.
Sydney graduated in May from our Early College High School program and was going to attend a four-year university. Her application was accepted, she had paid her enrollment fees, and she had submitted her housing application to live on campus. But the impact of COVID-19 has led her in another direction. Sydney decided to continue to stay at home and enroll at LCCC. She plans to earn her associate degree in nursing here, then transfer all of her LCCC credits to Ohio University. She’ll earn her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Ohio University through LCCC’s University Partnership program, all without leaving home. This wasn’t the plan Sydney had in place, but she’s remaining safe at home, saving thousands on tuition and housing costs, and staying on track toward her education and career goals. Read more about Sydney.
Like Sydney, many recent high school graduates had other college plans. But this pandemic has its grip on so many aspects of our lives. On-campus living is raising health concerns among students and their families, four-year university tuition rates are triggering financial doubt as our economy struggles, and a universal lack of face-to-face instruction is causing students to question the need to leave home at all.
The Year 1 at Home effort will help so many Ohio students put aside their questions about where and how to continue their educational path, alleviating the need for a gap year. But at LCCC, being at home doesn’t have to end with year one. Our University Partnership program lets students continue on in the safety and certainly of home. But the biggest factor at play in students’ hesitation to attend college is financial doubt.
A recent Forbes article discussed college loan debt – second to only mortgage debt – and how “in light of the uncertainty surrounding higher education for the 20-21 school year, the plunge into student loan debt is becoming less attractive by the minute.” The primary alternative to amassing student debt while this pandemic continues to stifle our economy is attending community college. With the second lowest tuition rates in Ohio and credits guaranteed to transfer, LCCC can be new college students’ alternative.
I know many students in our community are hesitant. They are holding out hope for last-minute certainty in an uncertain time. Whatever students decide, I hope they maintain their momentum and move forward on their educational path. And I hope they see a steady option for year one – and maybe beyond – at LCCC.
Restarting careers and our economy
Our economy is facing a steep downturn. U.S. employers cut 20.5 million jobs in April alone, pushing our nation’s unemployment rate to 14.7% – the highest level since the Great Depression. When our economy struggles, community colleges serve as a safety net and launch pad for those who need to retrain.
Some who attend will be among the millions who have lost their jobs because of recent lay-offs and know that when they look for new employment, they’ll need more education or credentials. Some will use this time to move into a high-demand field that’s weathered the pandemic, like health care, information technology, advanced manufacturing or cyber security.
And some have been inspired by the front-line workers keeping our community safe during a national crisis. LCCC has been the top educator of nurses, EMTs, police officers and firefighters in Lorain County. These careers will always be needed and in turn, LCCC will continue to do its part in training those who keep our community safe and healthy.
Remaining flexible and nimble
LCCC has always evolved to meet the needs of our dynamic community. Today, our agility is more important than ever. Most of our students were already juggling important roles outside of learner, including parent, employee or caretaker. But now our students face even more barriers as they pursue their education.
Online only courses will be delivered with no scheduled class times, allowing students to learn remotely and complete their coursework when their schedule allows
Online Live Conference will offer live web-conference style courses that meet at designated days and times
Blended courses will be part online, part scheduled face-to-face following physical space guidelines on campus
In-person classes will be held at specific times following physical space guidelines on campus
We’re implementing these flexible options because this pandemic should not stop any students from reaching their higher education goals. And neither should the struggles our students face outside their coursework, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Our culture of care will continue in any and every delivery method necessary. Whether our students need curbside food pick-up from our on-campus pantry, the Commodore Cupboard, or a refurbished laptop from our Computer Recycling program, we will continue to provide our students the wrap-around services and resources they need to succeed.
Reimagination and reform
Mandatory campus closures hastened LCCC’s move toward full programs being offered online. But we will not move backward. Instead we will use this progress we have made as a catalyst for positive, permanent change.
We know that challenges lie ahead. Among those is a decrease in funding from the State of Ohio for all public education institutions. At LCCC we are preparing for at least a 20% reduction from the State during the next fiscal year. This is our economic reality. But our leadership’s strategic foresight has guided our organization through many trying times and it will guide us through this, too.
We know what to do – we must lean in hard to what is core to this college, core to our mission: delivering high quality higher education to our community. We are going to tighten our focus on the most critical aspects of this mission. And we’re going to deliver on this mission while keeping our students safe and healthy.
In all we do, we will keep an eye toward the future. There’s a report out by McKinsey & Company called, “Beyond coronavirus: The path to the next normal.” It lays out a framework for how leaders of businesses and institutions can look beyond the current crisis and navigate their organizations into a new normal. The report talks about the five Rs: resolve, resiliency, return, reimagination, reform.
We’ve shown resolve and resiliency in weathering this pandemic. Now as we slowly, thoughtfully, and responsibly enter into the return, we must grasp the opportunity presenting itself – the opportunity to reimagine and reform.
This pandemic has changed us all forever. LCCC will never be the same institution that we were at beginning of 2020. In just a few weeks and under great pressure, we became more flexible, more nimble and more focused than ever. I’m excited about what’s to come, because what the future looks like, is up to us.