Community Colleges

This was a busy week! I had the great pleasure of attending a number of events at our local community colleges and must say that I was impressed with the students, the staff, and the programs they had to offer. I was also struck by the diversity of the students attending a community college to further their education and career goals.

Last night Mesa Community College, one of the 10 colleges in Arizona’s Maricopa Community College District, held their academic honors recognition ceremony. Mesa Community College serves approximately 27,000 students annually. Thirty-four percent are full-time students and 66 percent are part-time students. Forty-seven percent intend to transfer to further their education. Thirty-three percent are there to improve their career options. The students who were recipients of the academic honors ranged from high school teachers looking to further their studies in order to pursue a Master’s degree in a new area; to 22-year veterans wanting to improve their skill set so they can be more effective in what they do; to local community members training for a new career; to what used to be considered typical undergraduate students, 18- to 22-year-olds preparing for their future; to the 10-year-old who was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa last year, has a 4.0 GPA, and who finished first in the college math contest, trigonometry division. If that doesn’t speak to being successful in serving a diverse student population, I’m not sure what does.

Too often community colleges do not get the credit they deserve. No, they are not a Stanford or an MIT — but they aren’t trying to be, either. What they are is a vital part of our post-secondary education system, preparing students for further education, providing employers with a better-educated workforce armed with the skills to succeed in today’s global economy — and they do it at an affordable cost. Nearly half of all U.S. undergraduates attend a community college. Fifty-nine percent of new nurses are educated at community colleges; and 80 percent of firefighters, law enforcement officers, and EMTs are credentialed at community colleges. Forty-three percent of the students are first-time freshmen and 42 percent are the first generation in their families to attend college. 

No question… today’s community colleges play a vital role in serving both a diverse student body and the community in which they are located, and it’s time for us to give credit where credit is due.