Innovating Pathways for Equal Access to Education

Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.

Dick Shaink

Last week, I had the great opportunity to join 15 other colleagues from around the country as Champions of Change within the community college sector. It was a great honor to be selected to represent Mott Community College, immediately following our selection as one of ten finalists for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.

The Champions of Change roundtable discussion that I participated in was exhilarating and full of promising new ideas about how to improve the community college sector for the benefit of some of our most vulnerable citizens who are seeking a better life for themselves and their families. I was particularly impressed with some of the specific programs highlighted by my colleagues that had been developed to ensure that students were prepared and connected to real jobs within their communities. I am bringing back home to Mott many of these examples that I will share with my administrators, faculty and staff. I was also reminded that the challenges we grapple with, such as the high number of students in need of developmental education, are not exclusive to MCC; many of the other colleges continue to face this issue, and I appreciate opportunities for us to learn from each other about approaches that have worked and those that have failed.

At the same time, I had the opportunity to share lessons learned from the outstanding work that has gone on at our college to help low-skilled adults succeed academically by creating career pathways that link workforce programs with credit-bearing courses in Flint, Michigan, a community that faces severe economic challenges. The credit for the success of our intertwined fabric of programs that ensure participants stay in an academic career pathway, are employed along the way, and receive credentials, is due to the leaders of this initiative at our college. They have sought out and implemented best practices from around the country, while creating best practices of our own that are now modeled elsewhere. 

This is no small task in times like this when funding for workforce development and support services for adults continues to diminish.  By being creative in combining resources and integrating elements of various programs to strengthen ultimate outcomes, Mott has been able to grow and expand our efforts to meet the growing demands in our community.  We have served more than 4,700 unduplicated students through these programs over the past five years, bridging them successfully into academic education and/or employment.

There is an almost universal perception that when an individual seeking access to postsecondary education who may not have been “college ready” in the past can simply “knock on the door” of the community college and succeed.  Although this is true for a large population of our students, there are still those who cannot find their way to, or do not feel ready for community college. Sometimes those individuals enroll in a local job training program, but are still left with the task of finding their way into an educational pathway that will provide them with the credentials and degrees required of today’s workforce.

At Mott, we recognized over a decade ago that we needed to find a way to identify and serve these men and women more effectively. This was the beginning of what is now our Center for Workforce and Career Development. We consider this another “door” through which students enter, rather than a separate, siloed workforce development program. Every individual who finds their way to Mott through the Center is registered as a student and we immediately begin to assess their skills and develop an individualized career and educational pathway for them. 

One of the most important aspects of this work is our expansive efforts to link workforce programs with credit-bearing courses, allowing these students to move more quickly along their career pathway. This is done through the creation of internal articulation agreements, patterned on the articulation agreements we have in place with our K-12 school systems. These agreements, however, are between our workforce programs and our academic programs.  As an initial pilot through the national “Breaking Through” initiative that we continue to be a part of, our efforts in this regard have expanded.

I am so pleased that I was able to share Mott’s success in this arena at the White House Champions of Change Roundtable discussion last week; but, even greater than that was the opportunity to hear about all of the groundbreaking initiatives and approaches that my colleagues are championing in their institutions. We know that the spotlight is on community colleges to be significant players in our country’s economic recovery. If the discussion yesterday is any indicator, we are definitely up for the job.

Dick Shaink is the President of Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan. MCC's mission is to provide high quality, accessible and affordable educational opportunities that promote student success, individual development and improve the overall quality of life in a multicultural community.

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