Bucking the community college rightsizing trend

Data-driven, student-centered, and career-oriented

Ask one of our UB readers what segment of American higher education has experienced the most growth over the past 50 years and they will tell you Community and Technical Colleges. That said, the world has turned and the Demographic Tornado has diminished enrollment growth for Community Colleges situated in Northeast and Midwest industrial states.

Some labor economists contend that Community College growth runs countercyclical to full employment. When prospective students are dislocated by a fickle economy and find new employment, they often have less time for full-time studies – seeking instead short-term skills training rather than long-term degree completion.

Fast forward to 2017 and a 30,000-foot altitude snapshot finds some Community Colleges scrambling to recruit new students as these institutions find themselves chasing the new demographic. So, it is no wonder that Community Colleges in the Southwest and West are experiencing new growth.

Enter SUNY Broome Community College in Binghamton, New York as a prime example of bucking the rightsizing enrollment trend – through nimble and responsive academic programming and creative, proactive strategic partnering.

Like Spencer Johnson’s Sniff and Scurry (“Who Moved My Cheese?”), Broome anticipated that its “cheese” would inevitably be moved – requiring the College to search out new cheese well before their old cheese was moved from its last place in the fast changing enrollment maze. For Broome, this meant exploring emergent academic and career program fields of choice based on contextual qualitative and quantitative jobs data – including the utilization of discipline and career-specific focus groups, field interviews, and preference polling surveys of students, alumni, faculty, staff, and importantly, employers.

Speaking about the variety of Broome’s applied medical, science, and technology programs, Broome’s President, Dr. Kevin Drumm put it nicely by saying these high demand programs “can get you a good job when you’re done after a year or two” and there “are a lot of the technical and health programs that pay well when you’re done for a small investment in tuition and fees.”

Looking to the future, Broome now has aspirations toward the development of new programs in advanced manufacturing, aircraft maintenance, food safety and security, and systems engineering.

When speaking about the Aircraft Maintenance program, President Drumm shared that “this is truly a community effort and testament to what we can do when we all work together to improve our community,” as this program has been a steadfast goal for members of the larger Broome County community including the County Executive.

By partnering with institutions like Binghamton University, Rochester Institute of Technology, and Cornell University on various programs, Broome provides its students with a best value proposition as they are positioned for the successful completion of Bachelor degrees from leading agricultural and engineering schools in New York.

Yet another example is Malcolm X College (City Colleges of Chicago), which began planning for a new building several years ago when institutional leaders seized the opportunity to gather emergent, regional gainful employment data beyond the usual low hanging fruit – i.e. U.S. Census and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Through utilizing a data-driven approach, the data collected demonstrated a clear and present need for the continuation of the Mortuary Science Associates in Applied Science (AAS) degree program, which could have been cut using solely the low hanging data. Malcolm X College Interim President David Sanders noted that the Mortuary Science program “could have been cut because it didn’t meet one data element,” however, by examining the data deeper, “we were able to say, yes, this program is absolutely needed.”

Finally, Pitt Community College located in Winterville, North Carolina has conceived of new growth in the several fields of science (health, life, and pharmaceutical sciences), math, and technology. This growth dynamic is evident by the recent groundbreaking in 2015 of the new Science and Technology Training Center.

When speaking about the new Center, Pitt Community College President Dr. G. Dennis Massey suggested that “the margin of excellence that this project provides for PCC simply equates to job creation, long-term growth, and sustainability especially in our region where stimulus is needed.” Pitt County Commissioner Beth Ward remarked that when the County recruits new pharmaceutical businesses, “they always ask us about our ability to train workers, whether they are on the assembly line or engineers.” Pitt Community College graduates will be well positioned for high-quality positions right in their own backyard, a high-value proposition.

What these several Community Colleges have in common is a dynamic academic program development process that is data driven and focuses on the gainful employment opportunities for their students. No longer are the same old milestones, metrics, and primary data sources the coin of the realm for entrepreneurial Community Colleges.

—James Martin and James E. Samels are authors of Consolidating Colleges and Merging Universities: New Strategies for Higher Education Leaders (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017). Martin is a professor of English at Mount Ida College (Mass.) and Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance.

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