Mount Wachusett Community College Haley Academic Center

As I See It: Now more than ever community colleges are essential

Originally published in the Worcester Telegram

By President James Vander Hooven

A primary indication of a strong community is the value placed on education even while experiencing the throes of a crisis. The value of community college, therefore, is now more apparent than ever as we weather the economic impact from COVID-19.

Mount Wachusett Community College will play a critical role in the recovery of our region as we move through the four phases of the Commonwealth’s plan.

For five decades, we have educated nurses and CNAs, medical assistants and lab techs, paramedics, counselors, EMTs, police officers and firefighters. We are proud to call these dedicated individuals members of our community and even more proud to honor all of them as our 2020 alumni of the year, one of the most prestigious honors that the college bestows. Community colleges provide 85% of first responder training, and nearly 57% of nurses in the U.S. began their education at a community college like Mount Wachusett. And yet, the CARES Act allocated only 27% of vital emergency funds to community colleges to help educate first responders and nurses — during a pandemic.

Supporting community college is an investment in the healthcare infrastructure of our region.

Community colleges offer students and their families what they need most right now. We are welcoming students unable to start or return to their college or university this fall. We offer students the opportunity to take the courses they need, close to home, and at a fraction of the cost. Massachusetts community colleges educate half of the students in public higher education, but only receive a quarter of state funding to do so.

Supporting community colleges is an investment in the educational success of our students at this critical time and we must support them as such.

Community college is the affordable path to education for scores of people, many of whom are working full-time while in school. On average 44% of students enrolled community college work full-time, paying taxes and supporting the local economy. Nearly 90% of community college graduates stay in the region after graduation; supporting community colleges supports the students who contribute to our economy while they develop the skills needed to help our region recover and grow.

I have watched as the Mount’s students and graduates have served our community while maintaining commitment to their education, juggling online learning, home schooling, and often the care of an elderly relative. From students in our health care programs who have continued to work, to our honor students who have stepped up to make masks for community organizations, to our students working part time in grocery stores and other essential businesses, community college students demonstrate the resilience, responsiveness, and dedication that will be vital help to our region as we move into recovery.

Now more than ever, the fiscal support of community colleges should reflect the critical role they play in the education of frontline workers and the broader economic success of our country. It is a value statement and judgment on us as a community.

James Vander Hooven, Ed. D., is president of Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner.

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