Community Colleges in the Spotlight

December 6, 2012

Dr. Dustin Swanger

For the last four years, community colleges have been in the national spotlight more than ever before in the history of higher education. With the re-election of the President, all politics aside, we expect that attention to continue. Being in the spotlight is a double-edged sword. There is the recognition that, “We’re finally in the spotlight!”  Yet, as more and more agencies, elected officials, and organizations contact community colleges, write reports about community colleges, offer direction for community colleges, there is the remorse of, “Oh dear, we’re in the spotlight.” 

However, I believe that the recognition far outweighs the additional “help” that all those interested parties want to provide.

 Community colleges, like Fulton-Montgomery, are being recognized as institutions of higher education, providing a cost-effective alternative to the rising cost of private four-year institutions. Students all across the country are electing to take their first two years of college education at community colleges and transfer the credits to an upper-level institution, saving tens-of-thousands of dollars. When you consider the average tuition for community colleges is approximately $3,000 per year, while private colleges’ tuition rates are more in the $35,000 – $75,000 per year range, it is clear how attending a community college saves money.

Community colleges are also gaining recognition for preparing a workforce for the 21st century. I have attended national meetings where community colleges have highlighted the investments they are making in equipment, curriculum, and buildings to develop a workforce in nanoscale technology, healthcare professions, computer science, green technologies, and others, as the country works on its economic recovery. As many of you know, FM has invested in several of these areas to address the growing need for a technical workforce. President Obama has, on numerous occasions, touted the importance of community colleges in workforce development.

 Community colleges are being recognized for helping those on public assistance gain an education that allows them to work in a job sufficient to sustain a family. It has been said that education is the great equalizer for our society. Data from several studies shows that those who attain some level of post-secondary education are far less likely to be on, or remain on, public assistance. They are also much more likely to weather economic downturns. Community colleges, as colleges of opportunity, work hard to bring hope to those who are looking to change their lives through personal achievement.

 Some community colleges are contributing to the economy by assisting small business growth. Through small business incubators, small business development centers, degrees and certificates in entrepreneurship, etc., community colleges are helping to improve the success of small businesses and small business start-up companies. FM is currently working with our local economic development officials and our Chamber of Commerce to explore the development of a business incubator locally. Small business is a real economic engine of growth.  We want to support these efforts.

Community colleges are in the spotlight – and deservedly so. FM, as your community college, is doing what it can to spark economic growth, provide an educated workforce, deliver high-quality education for transfer, and enhance the quality of life of those in our region.

Dr. Dustin Swanger is President of FM

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