Nationally, community colleges have a uniquely different mission than other types of institutions of higher learning. By providing an affordable and quality education to community residents, community colleges stimulate local economic growth, close the gaps for low-income individuals and families, contribute directly to individuals’ personal fulfillment, and provide an overall, higher quality of life for community residents.
When local employers experience a shortage of skilled workers, need reskilling to address their sector’s current and future needs, or desire to recruit local talent, they turn to community colleges. Community colleges from the east to the west coast can trace their institutional mission directly to all stakeholders of their communities. According to a new report from the Northern Illinois University Center for Governmental Studies, Illinois community colleges have a multi-billion-dollar impact on the state’s local economy. The report shows that, in Illinois alone, community colleges help people of all levels, all sectors, and all ages of society thrive. Community colleges also close critical achievement and graduation gaps across communities, leveling out the playing field in career achievement and thus, increasing earned household incomes for those at lower socio-economic levels.
According to a study conducted by Student Choice of College, students typically do not travel far from home to attend college. And frequently, those who start programs at community colleges easily transfer to a four-year institution, and then return to become active members of the same communities in which they started their community college education. This local connection allows people living in these communities to visualize their futures taking shape locally.
At Waubonsee, every transfer student, from the time they apply to the time they start class, regardless of if they complete a degree to transfer to a four-year institution or decide to transfer before finishing their associate degree, has an individual advisor assigned to them to help plan and achieve their goals. Whenever students need something, they have someone they know who they can reach out to by name to help them succeed. Research has shown that this personal touch model works in higher education.
The largest percentage of our students are interested in completing a bachelor’s degree. Waubonsee provides multiple pathways to help students transfer to almost any college or university of their choice. And, our students have transferred to almost 800 colleges across the country. We also make transferring to nearby four-year colleges as easy as possible through specific agreements such as our transfer partnership and 2+2 plans, with more than 20 local, four-year schools and programs to choose from. What better way for students to thrive locally, knowing that their credits will transfer easily into a four-year institution should they decide to go that route in their careers? Students who are unsure of their future can attend community colleges to discover their interests and explore career fields, knowing that the experience and education they gain here will help them succeed in their future.
Community colleges make it possible for community residents to thrive locally; individuals of every age can achieve their academic and career goals, local economies and communities are strengthened, and neighborhoods and families thrive. While many students may initially be attracted to community colleges because of their affordable cost, they discover the larger value that community colleges play in helping them thrive locally and transfer easily to the next phase of their education or career.
• Christine J. Sobek is president of Waubonsee Community College.