Giving Thanks for our Culture of Caring

This is the season for gratitude, caring, and reflection. As president of Lorain County Community College, I’m thankful for the culture of care demonstrated by our faculty, staff, students and the community. Together, we’re focused on building brighter futures.

Each year on Thanksgiving Eve, LCCC’s Office of Student Life hosts a free community Thanksgiving dinner that is open to all who wish to come – and especially to those unable to spend the holiday with friends or family. It’s my hope that this dinner brings together those who may not otherwise have met and enjoyed each other’s company. It’s always heartwarming to see people who arrive as strangers leave as new acquaintances. I’m often reminded that as joyous as the holiday season can be, it can also bring hard times. It’s during those times that our LCCC family comes together to lift up each other and spread our culture of caring.

Just last week I heard an incredible story about a student in LCCC’s nursing program who went the extra mile to improve the spirits of a patient. Christina Bray is completing her clinical rotations at Cleveland Clinic Avon Hospital on her path to become a registered nurse. She met a patient who was struggling after the recent loss of her mother. Christina took the time to talk with her and learned that the patient and her mother shared many special traditions, such as celebrating the first snowfall of the year with hot cocoa and Bing Crosby music.

Christina took those details to heart and when the first snowflakes of the year fell a few days later, she knew what to do. Instead of going straight home after her shift, Christina stayed on the floor and surprised her patient with a warm mug of cocoa and those special songs that brought back so many memories. What a wonderful display of caring and compassion! It speaks volumes about Christina that in the midst of her busy schedule she took the time to sit with her patient, listen to their story, and take action.

It’s those precious moments that make the most impact, and I am so proud of Christina. The caring she showed for her patient is a wonderful example of the quality of instruction that LCCC faculty cultivate to create such empathetic graduates. Dr. Rebecca Starck, president of Cleveland Clinic Avon Hospital, heard about Christina’s good deed and presented her with a special recognition at the hospital.

Nursing student Christina Bray, middle, stands with Dr. Starck and nursing faculty. Christina showed our culture of caring to her patient.
It’s that perspective of what’s important that makes Cleveland Clinic Avon Hospital a wonderful partner to LCCC in so many initiatives. On November 3, the hospital hosted their Avon Hospital & Richard Jacobs Health Center 5K run and 1 mile walk and this year’s beneficiary was LCCC’s Commodore Cupboard  food pantry. Thanks to the generosity of the hospital and the many runners and walkers, I was honored to accept a check for $11,000 on behalf of Commodore Cupboard.

LCCC President Marcia Ballinger holds a giant check with representatives from Commodore Cupboard. The donation spreads our culture of caring.
The donation from Cleveland Clinic Avon Hospital will provide 500,000 meals for our students and community.

Our food pantry is a staple on our campus, providing emergency food to LCCC students and their families. For the many people in our community who are struggling with hunger and food insecurity, the holidays are an especially uncertain time. Through this donation, more than 500,000 meals will be provided to people right here in Lorain County at a time when they need it most.

Taking care of each other is something we do all year round at LCCC, but I am especially thankful for the caring and compassion that happens during the holiday season.

I invite you to take a moment and watch our LCCC video for this Thanksgiving season.


Transfer Success by Strategic Design

This week is National Transfer Student Week, providing an opportunity to celebrate the many students who begin at LCCC and transfer to a four-year institution.  As the community’s college, the educational goals of our students are as diverse as the communities of Northeast Ohio we serve and we understand that many students have aspirations for bachelor’s degrees and beyond. Some of our students begin at LCCC already with a firm plan to transfer and earn a bachelor’s degree or higher, while many others decide to continue on for a four-year degree after they find their passion in an associate degree program at LCCC. However their baccalaureate plans take shape, the fact is that 25 percent of our students will transfer to a four-year institution, and LCCC has programs to make it possible to reach their goals quickly and affordably.

To best serve the needs of our students and the community, in 2018 LCCC took the bold step to become one of the first community colleges in Ohio to offer an applied bachelor’s degree. LCCC students can now earn an applied bachelor’s degree in microelectronic manufacturing (MEMS) – the only bachelor’s degree program of its kind in Ohio – right here from their community college. This degree is even more remarkable when you factor in earn-and-learn opportunities, including paid internships that offset the already low cost of the program. It’s my vision that this the MEMS degree is the first of many applied bachelor’s degrees to be offered by LCCC. (Read more about why community colleges should be offering applied bachelor’s degrees in this piece by Education Dive.)

The groundbreaking venture into applied bachelor’s degrees follows LCCC’s long-time trajectory of connecting Northeast Ohio with bachelor’s degrees. In 1995, LCCC was the first community college in Ohio to offer a University Partnership. This revolutionary program has grown to include more than 50 bachelor’s and master’s degree programs from 14 Ohio universities – all available right here in Lorain County and for a fraction of the cost.

Graduates celebrate following the LCCC graduation ceremony.
The 2019 LCCC Commencement ceremony included 353 students earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees through LCCC’s University Partnership.

For students who prefer to transfer and attend a four-year university on their main campuses, advisors and LCCC’s transfer center help students connect the dots for a streamlined transfer experience. Additionally, LCCC is continually developing enhanced transfer experiences, such as the new UP Express CSU program, which makes transferring to Cleveland State University’s downtown campus even easier for LCCC students.

Each of these transfer and baccalaureate programs and options directly align with LCCC’s new strategic plan Impact 2025, which includes the future-focused priority of efficient and affordable transfer opportunities. These options happen concurrently with the many student resources and support services available at the college that help students overcome barriers.

The results of these multi-targeted transfer and support efforts are clear: students who begin at LCCC and then transfer to a four-year institution earn bachelor’s degrees at a higher rate than students who attend a university straight from high school. In fact, 43 percent of students who begin at LCCC and transfer to a four-year institution earn a bachelor’s degree within six years of taking their first LCCC class, and another 30 percent or more will earn their bachelor’s degree over time. The rate of bachelor’s degree attainment is even higher for LCCC students who begin taking college classes in high school through LCCC’s College Credit Plus program; 62 percent of students who take LCCC’s CCP courses earn their bachelor’s degree within six years of graduating high school.

This data is impressive, but the real story is found within the students who make these numbers possible. Students like Alexandra Moen, who grew up across the street from LCCC but didn’t plan to attend here until she realized the overwhelming cost of going away to college. She instead looked close to home and found her community college. At LCCC, she found her passion for improving her community, serving as president of LCCC’s Student Senate. Alex earned two associate degrees from LCCC before earning a bachelor’s degree in urban studies from Cleveland State University through LCCC’s University Partnership in June 2019.  Today, she’s using her skills in a full-time role at United Way of Greater Lorain County. Learn more about Alex.

Alex Moen wears her graduation cap and gown, holding two degree covers.
Alex Moen shows off her degrees from LCCC and Cleveland State University.

For Allyssa Earl, LCCC’s SAIL (Students Accelerating in Learning) program served as a springboard to her success. Allyssa began taking classes at the LCCC Lorain Center because she could walk to the campus from her Lorain home. When she learned about SAIL, she jumped at the chance for additional support and resources for her education. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Cleveland State University through LCCC’s University Partnership in May 2019. Learn more about Allyssa.

Allyssa Earl stands in the library between shelves of books.
Allyssa Earl earned a bachelor’s degree through LCCC’s University Partnership.

It was professors at LCCC who first inspired Nicholas Sutfin to explore the intersections of art and science. He earned an associate degree in universal arts at LCCC before transferring to Cleveland State University and later to Boise State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in geoscience. He continued at Colorado State University, where he earned his master’s degree and then Ph.D. in earth science – fluvial geomorphology in 2016. Sutfin credits LCCC with starting his path of self-discovery.  “LCCC can help you determine where you go, instead of just ending up somewhere,” he said. Learn more about Nicholas.

Nicholas Sutfin stands among green trees in the LCCC courtyard.
Nicholas Sutfin earned his first degree at LCCC. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in earth science.

For our top students who transfer to elite colleges, their success is even more prominent. A report by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation recently found that 75 percent of students to who begin at a community college and transfer to an elite university complete their bachelor’s degree within six years. I’m willing to bet that 2019 LCCC graduate Eleana Cintron will be among those who bolster those statistics. Cintron completed the Lorain County Early College High School program in May and during her four years of high school on the LCCC campus, she racked up honors such as being the youngest intern hired at Cleveland’s NASA Glenn Research Center. She was also awarded the Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, which will fund her education as she works toward a bachelor’s degree from the prestigious Case Western Reserve University. Learn more about Eleana.

Eleana stands in front of a white board.
LCCC graduate Eleana Cintron will attend Case Western Reserve University in the fall.

For our LCCC students who are just beginning their transfer journey, I have every confidence they will continue their success – and their community college will be here to support them each step of the way.

Did you get your start at LCCC before transferring to a four-year institution? I want to hear your story! Find me on Twitter or email me at

A New Semester of Supporting Students

This is one of my favorite times of the year. Today marks the start of a new semester and a new academic year at Lorain County Community College.

The excitement on campus today is palpable. The hopeful energy of nearly 14,000 new and returning LCCC and University Partnership students is in the air, swirling with the excited anticipation of our faculty and staff who have been preparing all summer for this moment. When you put it all together, the atmosphere is downright exhilarating.

As we welcome students back this week, here is my message to LCCC students who are beginning their new semester:

A fresh start.
At a community college, a fresh start comes in many forms. For many of our students, this week marks their first-ever taste of college life. They may be coming to us straight from high school, with their futures wide-open. Others are taking their first college classes in their 40s or 50s after deciding to embark on a career change after years in the field. Still others are returning to college after an extended absence, and are now ready to complete what they started.

No matter what past brought them through our doors, one thing’s for certain: their future is theirs to write. Helping students reach their goals is a privilege we take seriously. Every student’s dream matters and our campus is ready to wrap our arms around each student and guide them to their finish line – whether that’s an associate degree, certificate or bachelor’s degree.

Tailored support.
At LCCC, we pride ourselves on being student-ready; that means meeting students where they are and providing the tailored support they need to reach their goals. There is no one-size-fits-all method for supporting students. Over the past decades, LCCC has cultivated a culture of caring by adopting a holistic approach that helps our students achieve success and stability.  In 2018 our efforts were recognized nationally by the American Association of Community Colleges, who named LCCC the first the nation for student success. This academic year, we are taking student support a step further with the creation of our new Student Advocacy and Resource Center (ARC), a one-stop connection for students to find assistance in overcoming obstacles like hunger, emergency car repairs, child care and so much more. Our campus recently hosted Donna Beegle, Ed.D., president of Communication Across Barriers, and a champion for ending poverty. As Dr. Beegle told us, it’s the community’s responsibility to “fight poverty, not the people who live in it.” I know the ARC will do that just – help students overcome barriers on their way to success.

Here’s more about the ARC:

Let’s get started.
No one knows exactly what the future will hold, but at LCCC we know that our students will be prepared for whatever comes their way. Our programs prepare students for the jobs of the future, while our support systems guide them through the realities of today. As I walk on campus, surrounded by our students and their boundless possibilities, I’m hopeful, excited and ready to see each one reach for their dreams.

Impacting the Future through Education

On Saturday, May 18, the campus of Lorain County Community College was absolutely buzzing with excitement and pride for the class of 2019.

More than 620 students marched in our ceremony, representing a total class of 1,641 graduates who earned 2,083 associate degrees and certificates. An additional 353 students earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees through LCCC’s University Partnership, bringing the grand total of degrees and certificates awarded to an astounding 2,436! What a true honor it was for me to shake the hand of each graduate as they received their diploma.

The day was made even more extraordinary by the inspiring words from keynote speaker Allan Golston, president of the United States Program for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Golston encouraged the graduates not to wait to pay forward their success, but to begin right away impacting the lives of others. In his new post on Medium, Golston shared the impact the LCCC Class of 2019 had on him during his visits to our campus.

Allan Golston stands at the podium during his keynote speech.
Allan Golston encourages the class of 2019 to pay forward the lessons they’ve learned.

The graduates represent a promising future for Lorain County and our region. The LCCC District Board of Trustees recently adopted a new strategic plan that includes the promise of 10,000 individuals earning a degree or certificate by the year 2025. We call it 10,000 Degrees of Impact and it’s all about making Lorain County future-ready.  Studies show that higher education dramatically increases a person’s chance move up the economic ladder, making a college degree a powerful tool to break the cycle of poverty for families. (For more on this, read my blog about higher education and upward mobility.)

The 2019 graduates represent the first class to be counted toward our new goal. What an impact these individuals will have on our world!

Julian Colbert

The impact will be made by students like Julian Colbert, an 18-year-old senior at Clearview High School who earned two associate degrees through LCCC’s College Credit Plus program.  Julian will transfer to The Ohio State University in the fall with a full scholarship as a Morrill Scholar. He is one of 136 high school students who earned LCCC degrees this year through College Credit Plus and Lorain County Early College High School.

Daymiah and Jeremiah Leyva

Another high school student who earned a degree is Daymiah Leyva. She’s one of 21 students from Lorain High School who earned an associate degree through College Credit Plus. Daymiah had the uniquely amazing experience to earn her degree at the same time her father, Jeremiah, earned his bachelor’s degree through LCCC’s University Partnership. A few years ago, Jeremiah decided to make education a priority in his life and he came to meet with me to talk about returning to LCCC. His determination to create a prosperous future for his family was an inspiration, and I was pleased to help him get back on track toward his goals. Over the past four years, Jeremiah and Daymiah inspired each other to strive for the best and I know they will continue to push each other to achieve their dreams.

Brandy Spradlin

One family making a big impact is the Spradlin family. Brandy earned her first degree in 2018 – when she graduated at the same time her daughter, Ashley, earned an associate degree through Lorain County Early College High School. This year, Brandy earned her associate degree nursing alongside her son, Chase, who earned his associate degree through Early College. Brandy and her family are a true inspiration and it’s clear that higher education will have a tangible impact on their futures.

With graduates like Julian, Daymiah, Jeremiah, Brandy, Chase and so many more impacting our community, I know that the future is in good hands. As the class of 2019 inspires others to reach for their goals, I have no doubt that our community will be celebrating the graduation of 10,000 more LCCC students by 2025.


What are you favorite graduation memories? Tell me on Twitter.

Inspire. Encourage. Empower.

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, I find myself thinking about the limitless potential that exists when women are fully embraced in our community. It’s imperative that women inspire, encourage and empower one another. Melinda Gates said, “When women and girls are empowered to participate fully in society, everyone benefits” and I agree wholeheartedly. I’m proud to serve as LCCC’s first female president, and it’s important to me that women in our community feel connected, supported, and prepared to reach their educational and career goals.

It’s my mantra that every student’s dream matters, and it’s our mission at LCCC to help each student achieve their goals – no matter the barriers they may face. As the community’s college, we serve students of all ages and demographics, and we prepare them for the next phase in their lives – whether that’s retraining for a new career or transferring to a four-year university through LCCC’s University Partnership or another institution. The strength and determination put forth daily by our students is truly inspiring. But even the most resolute student can run into roadblocks, and that’s where LCCC’s specialized networks and support programs can inspire and energize students – especially women who often face unique challenges.

One program that is inspiring students to reach their goals is our Students Accelerating in Learning (SAIL) program, which is producing amazing results for all participants – including women of all ages. Our ground-breaking SAIL program is modeled after the highly successful ASAP program at The City University New York. LCCC’s SAIL provides financial support in the form of tuition scholarships, textbook vouchers and gift cards for gas and groceries. Moreover, students are supported each step of the way through regular communication with their advisor. Many of the students are women from low-income households and are the first in their family to attend college, making the SAIL program a tool to break the cycle of poverty.

There is no doubt that the combined impact of monetary support and advising is effective and SAIL’s results speak for themselves. Over a two-year study by the nonprofit research firm MDRC, students in LCCC’s SAIL program graduated at more than twice the rate of students not in the program. (Read more about our results and find the full case study here.) This swift path to graduation – with more than 41 percent of SAIL student completing a degree in three years – is worth expanding and LCCC is committed to doing just that. Over the next five years, 1,000 students will benefit from the SAIL program.

This expansion is focused and deliberate. We know that educational attainment has a profound effect on whether a family lives in poverty, particularly for those with a high school diploma or less. A college education can be especially transformational for single mothers with young children, who often bear the brunt of poverty. Of all the families in Lorain County with children under five years old living in poverty, 61 percent are headed by single moms. By reaching these populations through strategic programs like SAIL, we give women and their children the power to move up the economic ladder, creating a vibrant future for their families and our community.


One inspiring student to complete our SAIL program is Dorisa Johnson. Dorisa started walking to the LCCC Lorain Learning Center when she was 18. She had earned her GED – the first in her family to reach that milestone – and was hungry for more education. She felt a calling to study for a career in heath care as a tribute to her father, who passed away in 2014. At LCCC, Dorisa found SAIL and the confidence that she could achieve her goals. She also found a trusted advisor and confidante in SAIL advisor Cynthia Arredondo.

“I felt challenges, but I kept meeting with Cynthia and listening to her advice,” Dorisa said. “And now I feel like I’m succeeding. I’m getting somewhere.”

With that support, she earned an associate of applied science in medical assisting from LCCC in 2018 and is now on her way to a bachelor’s degree from LCCC’s University Partnership.

Dorisa Johnson wears medical scrubs and poses in a blue hallway.
Dorisa Johnson is on her way to a career in health care.


Dorisa was steadfast, but like most students, she faced challenges. The SAIL program prepares students to weather storms through a built-in support system at LCCC.

For Alyssa Earl, the requirement to enroll full time almost stopped her before she got started. This requirement is in place because we know that students who enroll full time are more likely to earn their degrees faster. Alyssa was working full time and not sure she was able to prioritize school. Like Dorisa, Alyssa turned to her advisor, Cynthia Arredondo for advice.

“I was scared to go to school full time but Cynthia stayed on me and made sure I put myself and my future first,” Alyssa said. “Now that I’m on campus full time, I get that full college experience. I work on campus. I am involved in clubs. It’s inspiring.”

Arredondo said Alyssa’s struggle to put education first is a common dilemma for the many women she mentors through the SAIL program.

“Women more typically have greater family responsibilities, whether it is being a parent – and the burden is greater if they are a single parent – or a caretaker for another family member, along with the financial responsibility of having a job while attending college,” Arredondo said. “Breaking down the process of completing college can feel overwhelming for many woman, especially at the start.”

Arredondo encourages and inspires fearful students by sharing the stories of the many strong women who completed their degrees while also balancing other responsibilities. Regular communication is also a priority, she said.

“Cynthia was always in my inbox, always emailing me. Always making sure I stayed on top of my goals,” Alyssa said. “Because of her and because of the SAIL program, I’m more confident and it’s made me who I am today.”

Alyssa earned her associate degree in 2018 and is now working on a bachelor’s degree in psychology through LCCC’s University Partnership. Without the push from her advisor, Alyssa said she would have taken one or two classes per semester, dramatically lengthening the time it took to earn her associate degree.

Alyssa Earl poses for a photo wearing a denim jacket and red shirt.
Alyssa Earl is the first in her family to earn a college degree. She’s now working on a bachelor’s degree through LCCC’s University Partnership.


When students are inspired and encouraged, they become empowered to reach for their dreams, like SAIL graduate LePreece Johnson.

LePreece was in her mid-40s when she decided it was time to leave a successful corporate job and follow her dreams toward a new career in engineering. With five children and a husband, LePreece struggled at first with allowing herself to focus on her education. It was the financial assistance of SAIL that helped her put aside her doubts.

“Knowing I had tuition covered helped me sleep at night,” she said.

LePreece Thomas poses in green her work uniform by a large yellow machine.
LePreece Thomas left her successful corporate job to follow her passion for engineering. She found her place with LCCC’s SAIL program.

LePreece earned two associate degrees in May 2018 and is now working in her dream career as a project coordinator for Mainthia Technologies, a contractor for NASA – a job she was landed before she even graduated.

“I’m so grateful to LCCC and SAIL, I can’t say it enough,” LePreece said. “I started in LCCC spring of 2015, worked straight through until graduation, and I have a brand new exciting career to show for it.”

LePreece, Alyssa and Dorisa were inspired, encouraged and empowered to build a strong and positive future for themselves. They are now doing their part to inspire others – including the next generation who can look to these women as strong examples of what can be achieved when we support one another.


It’s Women’s History Month, and I want to know: Who are the women that inspire you?

Tell me on Twitter.

2018: A year of “remember when” moments

We all have those “remember when” moments … those instances that years later you look back to as a turning point; an event or action that happened and made all the difference. Sometimes, it’s the smallest moments that make the largest impact. And at times, it’s big moments that mean big changes.

As the calendar nears the end of 2018, I find myself reflecting on the past year. And what a year it has been. The past 12 months at Lorain County Community College have been filled with many moments – big and small – that will stand test of time.  As the president of your community college, these moments are personal for me but also are wide-reaching in their positive impact for our region.

These are the “remember when” moments from 2018 that I will be talking about for years to come.

Remember when … A record number of students earned their degrees at LCCC?

Our May 2018 commencement ceremony celebrated the largest graduating class in the college’s history – 2,018 graduates in the year 2018! As anyone who has started something big can attest, who you were when you started the journey may not be who you are at the end. That was true for so many of our graduates, including Trecia Cintron, who earned an associate degree through LCCC’s Early College High School.

“Five years ago, I never would have seen myself graduating with more than 70 college credits,” Trecia said. “And now, here I am soaring above and beyond my own goals.”

Students rang bells to celebrate their graduation in May 2018. What a moment!

Remember when … the future of higher education in our community was changed when the first classes started in LCCC’s new bachelor of applied science in Microelectronic Manufacturing (MEMS)?

In October 2018, Jared Dumont walked into the Richard Desich Business and Entrepreneurship Center for the first class in LCCC’s newly approved applied bachelor’s degree in MEMS.  Jared and his classmates are the first in the state to receive bachelor’s level education in MEMS at a community college. The applied bachelor’s degree meets a specific need in the region and melds seamlessly with the associate degree MEMS program. Jared, who has already landed a job in the field by completing the MEMS associate degree, will graduate with even more experience and be prepared to advance to higher level jobs in the field. What’s more, the full applied bachelor’s degree can be completed at little cost to the students, due to LCCC’s low tuition and paid internships built included in the curriculum.

This MEMS applied bachelor’s program is going to produce big results for our region, and I can’t wait to continue to develop more specialized applied bachelor’s degree programs for our community.

Jared Dumont holds a Printed Circuit Board he created in in the MEMS program.

Remember when … a family member’s graduation inspired generations?

In late November, I arrived in my office to find a hand-written note from Christine Halvorsen. In her note, Christine wrote to me that she graduated from LCCC’s University Partnership program in June 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in technical and applied studies from Ohio University. She commented that just a few years ago, she had been faced with a restructuring at her employer and wasn’t sure where to go. Over the years, Christine had completed some LCCC classes, but stopped out to focus on her family. More than a decade later, she found herself in need of a bachelor’s degree to keep her job.

It was during that time that she attended the graduation of her niece, Halle Branscum, who earned an associate degree from LCCC in 2016. That day also happened to be my first commencement speech after being named president of LCCC. I shared with the graduates my own story of earning a master’s degree through LCCC’s University Partnership, and I urged them to continue to reach for their dreams. Hearing those words, Christine told me, helped spur her to take the plunge toward her own education. With the support of her son and Halle, Christine registered for classes and started toward her future the next week!

Christine went on to earn an associate degree in 2017 – where I had the pleasure of shaking her hand as she crossed the stage. She continued to earn a bachelor’s degree through LCCC’s University Partnership and Ohio University. And, she’s now working on her MBA. Christine’s note means so much to me, and her story is a testament to what can be achieved when you truly believe in yourself.

Christine celebrate graduation with her son and niece.
Christine after her 2017 LCCC graduation with her niece, Halle Branscum, and son, Stephen Seiber.

Remember when … new students took a chance on themselves?

Starting something new can be challenging. At LCCC, our faculty and staff are dedicated to making the transition to college as seamless as possible for everyone. To the nearly 5,000 students who took their first class at LCCC during 2018, I’m proud of you! And we are here for you, so that years from now, you can look back on 2018 as your “remember when” moment of taking your first class that led to a brighter future.

Remember when … LCCC’s commitment to student success was nationally recognized?

On April 30, 2018, I shook hands with Dr. Walter Bumphus, President and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges, on stage at the AACC national conference. Honestly, the moment is a bit of a blur in my memory. I had just heard Lorain County Community College announced as the winner of the 2018 Excellence in Student Success award, and somehow my feet carried me to the stage to accept this amazing honor on behalf of LCCC.

Student success is at the heart of every program, every initiative and every support service we provide as the community’s college. I was honored to accept the award on behalf of every student – past, present and future – who has ever trusted their higher education to LCCC. The national recognition has driven our campus to dive even deeper into our commitment to be a student-ready college, supporting our students in the ways they need it most.

Dr. Ballinger accepts the AACC award on stage.
Accepting LCCC’s award from AACC President and CEO Dr. Walter Bumphus.

Remember when … let 2019 fill in the blank.

Sometimes, it’s only clear years later what those “remember when” moments were.

It can take time for life to unfold and reveal what those “remember when” moments were. As we all journey into 2019, I wish you many “remember when” moments that will positively direct your life for years to come.

A Culture of Caring

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.

Shontae Jackson, right, with LCCC Culinary Arts Institute Director Adam Schmith, me, and entrepreneurship professor Lee Kolczun.

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.

Support from the SAIL program helped Jared Jones get back in the classroom after facing setbacks.

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.

Corina Barranco is now an LCCC student after financial aid team members removed barriers in the scholarship application.

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.

Meeting students where they are means providing the individualized supports each student needs to be successful.


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.

I was honored to have Tia McNair join us on campus as we focus on equity and a culture of caring.

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:

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 completion 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

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

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 and share your information. I look forward to hearing from you.