ccDaily > Colleges are part of communities' economic DNA

Colleges are part of communities' economic DNA

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​When it comes to maintaining and building local, state and regional economies, it’s hard to ignore the sector of higher education that serves nearly every square inch of the country.

That’s the message of a new policy brief from the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) that examines the role of community colleges in providing worker training for constantly changing industries, which in turn stabilize and expand local economies.

"The data on economic returns to students and society are well-documented by leading scholars," said Christopher Mullin, program director for policy analysis at AACC and co-author of the brief, "Community College Contributions."

However, despite data indicating the return-on-investment in community colleges, state funding for two-year colleges continues to remain low. While community colleges serve nearly half of undergraduates, they have historically received about 20 percent of state funding for higher education, the AACC brief noted. It added that there’s also a correlation between more funding and student success: completion rates improve with increases in fiscal support.

Keeping up with demand

Community colleges provide access to training that help residents attain jobs, but perhaps more importantly they also provide “upskill” training that allows workers to retain their jobs and for their employers to stay competitive. Western Nebraska Community College, for example, was crucial in keeping international retailer Cabela headquartered in Sidney, Neb. Meanwhile, a program at Columbus State Community College in Ohio provides professional development for incumbent workers to become supervisors.

Community colleges also step up to retrain workers for jobs in emerging industries in their area and help to reshape economies. The AACC brief cited Indian River State College in Florida which addressed training needs for the growing high-tech and energy industries.

In South Carolina, Aiken Technical College has become a source of worker training for the region’s growing nuclear industry. The college is currently raising funds for a new $8-million Center for Energy and Advanced Manufacturing. Just this month, ATC has received contributions from the University Health Care System, URS Corp. and Savannah River Remediation to match a federal grant.

Click here for other recent AACC policy briefs.

Industry companies seeking to expand know the value of the college’s training programs.

“The mixed oxide fuel fabrication facility we are building will have a need for trained nuclear technicians and Aiken Technical College will go a long way in helping us fill that need,” said Kelly Trice, president and COO at Shaw AREVA Mox Services, which pledged $100,000 toward building the new center.

Entrepreneurships are another key area of economic development that two-year colleges are helping to foster. Twenty percent of all small business development centers are located on community college campuses, according to data from the Association of Small Business Development Centers analyzed by AACC. The association cited a small business development center at Lansing Community College in Michigan that counseled and trained more than 2,000 people in 2011, resulting in 38 new businesses and $16.5 million in total new capital.

The numbers do the talking

To make their case before local and state officials, some community colleges are developing economic impact studies to show how the institutions improve students’ ability to increase their income as well as the colleges’ contributions to economic growth. Last week, Broward College in Florida released an economic impact report that showed a $1.40 return on every $1 invested by taxpayers. In addition, the county received $142 million in annual income due to college operations.

Community college leaders and stakeholders are using such reports as well as other avenues to make lawmakers aware of the importance of community colleges to the well-being of local, state and regional economies. Last week, Walter Asonevich, president of Pennsylvania Highlands Community College, wrote an op-ed directed at state lawmakers that illustrated the economic stakes of not properly funding community colleges.

“Pennsylvania Highlands Community College has seen a 32 percent drop in its state allocation per full-time equivalent student over the past five years. During this same five-year timeframe, Penn Highlands has added programs in welding, culinary arts and healthcare at the request of local industries,” Asonevich wrote in the Daily American. “As you can see, we are working with local business and industry to help repair the skills gap, however, lack of financial resources makes the addition of many high cost career-technical programs difficult to achieve.”

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