Op-Ed: Community Colleges — The Proven Path to Economic Recovery

by Dr. Karen A. Stout
President, Montgomery County Community College

As Pennsylvanians begin contemplating the Governor’s budget proposal, at least one question must be front and center in our analysis: how do we re-set our funding priorities so that we support rather than hinder economic revitalization and workforce development?

A study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce found that, by 2018, the country will need 22 million new workers with post-secondary degrees. The study predicts that we will fall short of this need by at least three million degrees – a significant lost economic opportunity for millions of American workers and for our economy.

The prime way for our country to move beyond its current economic challenges is to enable our citizens to reach their fullest career potential. This will expand job growth and the rebuilding of our national, regional and local economies.

Community colleges have proven that they are a dependable path to economic recovery, and they consistently show a significant return on investment. Locally, for every dollar invested in Montgomery County Community College last year, we re-invested $32.51 back into the local economy. This reinvestment has been especially critical in the Borough of Pottstown.

Consider the following examples of the extraordinary return on investment that our nation and our community have come to expect from community colleges, and from Montgomery County Community College specifically:

  • More than ever, students of all ages and stages of their careers are choosing community colleges to help them achieve the skills required to succeed in today’s workforce. Montgomery County Community College’s enrollment has grown by more than 20 percent over the past two years, with close to 24,000 students enrolled over the last year.
  • The College has also helped more than 500 adults in the greater Pottstown community to complete a GED and Employability Skills program over the past three years. Sponsored by the County’s Workforce Investment Board, the unique and accelerated program has a 90 percent success rate with close to 70 percent of participants gaining employment or enrolling at the College.
  • Community colleges play a vital role in supporting entrepreneurship. In 2010, Montgomery County Community College opened its innovative Center for Entrepreneurial Studies to help displaced workers and current adult students gain the necessary skills to open their own small businesses. The Center offers a full spectrum of services, including an incubator facility. The program grew out of the College’s highly-successful five-year “Starting a Successful Woman-Owned Business” program. To date, more than 300 aspiring female business owners have completed the program, resulting in 25 new businesses in our community.
  • Nationally, community colleges credential close to 80 percent the nation’s public safety professionals. Last year, Montgomery County Community College provided training and certifications to more than 11,000 volunteer firefighters, emergency specialists and police officers. Our Municipal Police Academy graduates 100 cadets per year and has trained more than 3,000 cadets over the past thee decades.
  • Growth areas – like health care – rely on community colleges to supply qualified workers to meet the needs of aging populations. Nationally, 52 percent of new nurses and the majority of new health care workers are educated at community colleges. To meet the specific needs of our community, Montgomery County Community College has programs in Radiography, Medical Assisting and Surgical Technology, and we offer an accelerated Nursing program in which students attend classes and clinical rotations continuously throughout the year.
  • Economic recovery must include expanding alternative energy sources – and community colleges will supply the necessary people power. Two years ago, the College partnered with Lakeland Community College in Kirkland, Ohio to offer a degree program in Nuclear Engineering Technology, addressing a significant shortage of nuclear technicians and operators specific to our region. In addition, workforce training in programs like solar installation, sustainable building advisor and wastewater treatment operator prepared close to 70 people during the last semester alone.

Support for community colleges from policymakers – local, state and federal – is necessary to move our country out of our recent recession and to create jobs locally. Continued support of  community colleges will provide access to the post-secondary degrees and credentials that the members of our communities need to secure and thrive in high-demand occupations that will fuel our economic recovery.

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