[OP-ED] The social role of community colleges
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With Community College Month here again, the time has come to recognize and celebrate these institutions for their role in building diversity, equity, and inclusion in our workplaces and communities.
Diversity has been proven time and time again to improve outcomes in the business world. According to one study, diverse teams outperform individuals about 87% of the time when making business decisions. Gartner research recently found that “differences of age, ethnicity, gender, and other dimensions foster high performance.” And according to the World Economic Forum, companies with above-average diversity scores drive 45% average revenue from innovation, compared to just 26% from companies with below-average diversity.
It’s clear that prioritizing diversity in business is correlated with superior performance, which in turn can lead to more prosperous and stronger communities. But in order to continue this trend, local educational institutions must play a larger role in training a new generation of diverse individuals with the skills and opportunities necessary to thrive in today’s economy.
Thanks to their accessibility and affordability to diverse groups, community colleges are extremely well- positioned to advance diversity and inclusion in our local workforce. For starters, 51% of community college students in the U.S. identify as a race other than white, and 12% of students have a disability. Community colleges are also significantly less expensive than traditional four-year universities, making them more affordable to all groups.
Community colleges also offer fast tracks to leadership positions and high-paying careers. By training students with the skills required by employers today in their own hometowns, community colleges can better align curriculum with local economic needs. This mutually beneficial approach allows minority students to gain access to attractive careers and enables companies to fill open positions with qualified workers. Community colleges also leverage workforce development programs as an efficient way to quickly guide students not just to a job – but to a lasting career. They’re designed to offer students employment opportunities in positions that are in high demand and provide family-sustainable wages.
Apprenticeship and internship programs are other effective ways for community colleges to engage with employers and determine their needs, then connect them with a diverse group of students eager to learn and take on jobs upon graduation. This collaborative approach ensures educators are providing relevant opportunities that benefit students, businesses, and the broader community.
For those with the goal of eventually earning their bachelor’s degree, that option remains open for community college students. The quality of education at community colleges is extremely high and transferring to four-year colleges is simple and easy. However, the many that choose not to are also well-positioned for success.
At Montgomery County Community College, our commitment to equity runs deep. We recently held our annual three-day Presidential Symposium with an “Inspire Beyond Inclusion” theme and named two new Equity, Diversity and Belonging team leaders to advance the College’s ongoing efforts to make its campuses a place for all.
As an immigrant myself, I know firsthand the value higher education can offer our region’s citizens from all backgrounds. Getting the opportunity to provide pathways to a better life for people of color like me was a big part of what attracted me to my role at the College. We’ll never stop pushing for greater inclusion within our own four walls and across our communities. With the buy-in from our local governments and community members, I know community colleges across the country can continue doing the same.
(*) Chair of Montgomery County Community College’s Board of Trustees.