April Is the Perfect Time to Consider the Value of a Community College Education
April 22, 2022
Scrolling through social media recently, I came across a post that struck a chord with me about a topic I care about very deeply — higher education … specifically, community college education.
Having spent nearly 40 years committed to Dr. Dallas Herring’s philosophy of “taking people where they are and carrying them as far as they can go” through education, I found it refreshing to see someone encouraging the normalization of sending high school graduates to community colleges “without making them feel like they’re less than 4-year university kids.”
For those unaware, Dr. Herring is widely considered the “father” of the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS). He encouraged community colleges to maintain an open-door policy so anyone wanting a college education could pursue it through NCCCS, which is now comprised of 58 institutions.
Unfortunately, many have viewed that “open door” as a secondary option, something prospective college students can fall back upon should their primary option – a bachelor’s degree at a four-year college or university – fail to materialize. Deeming a community college education to be inferior, a path of least resistance or simply a last resort is not only inaccurate, it’s harmful to the nation’s economy and a disservice to millions of people trying to better their lives through higher education each year.
So, to read a post advocating the normalization of sending kids to community colleges after high school (and the positive comments it generated) was refreshing to me … and timely. April is “Community College Month,” an initiative of the Association of Community College Trustees to increase awareness of the benefits of attending community colleges.
It’s a time when we humbly ask our fellow Americans to think about the valuable role community colleges play in developing a skilled workforce that helps existing business and industry prosper while attracting new economic growth to their communities. It’s an opportunity to consider how community colleges positively impact people’s lives and help them secure gainful employment.
For many years, community colleges were thought of as one-dimensional schools where individuals could only learn how to perform jobs that involved working with their hands. There’s certainly nothing wrong those careers, but it’s important to note that today’s community colleges aren’t your daddy’s technical institutions, so to speak.
From basic skills classes, personal interest courses and summer youth camps to college transfer, cybersecurity programming and training with state-of-the-art equipment in a simulation hospital, schools like Pitt Community College have something to offer practically every prospective learner.
If you’ve read this far, I’d like to ask you to take a moment and think about the people you’ve encountered within the past year. Without asking the individuals directly, could you tell if they received a community college education or went straight to a university out of high school? Did the nurse caring for you or your loved one receive a two-year degree or bachelor’s? Did the police officer responding to an emergency go through BLET at a two-year school? Did the technician who repaired your car earn a bachelor’s degree? Did the lawyer you hired go four years at a university for a bachelor’s before moving on to law school … or did he or she go to a community college for two years and then transfer?
I don’t ask these questions to downgrade a university education nor am I criticizing anyone’s decision to attend a four-year institution immediately after high school graduation. The point I am making is simple: higher education is about helping people develop the knowledge and skills they need in order to pursue their life’s calling.
What I’m saying is that we are long overdue as a society when it comes to normalizing sending kids to community colleges “without making them feel like they’re less than 4-year university kids.” Let’s give it a try!
Happy “Community College Month” (or #CCMonth, if you’re searching online), everyone!
Lawrence L. Rouse, Ed.D.
Pitt Community College President