Community College – America’s Best Kept Secret

by, CCD President, Dr. Everette Freeman

Vice President Joe Biden has confirmed something I have known for a long time now.

It is the undisputable fact that community colleges are America’s best-kept secret.

Biden affirmed this during his visit last summer to the Community College of Denver’s (CCD) Advanced Manufacturing Center. He enthusiastically discussed America’s economic policies and how community colleges play a vital role in sustaining our economic engine and workforce growth and stability.

I was particularly heartened as he so eloquently made the connection between a strong educated workforce, the training existing and potential workers receive at community colleges such as ours, and the direct impact it makes on our nation’s economic recovery.

While the U.S. economy’s recovery is slow but steady, many employers still struggle to fill certain types of job vacancies, particularly “middle-skills” jobs — those in computer technology, nursing, welding and other high-skill manufacturing fields. These jobs require post-secondary technical education and training and, in some cases, college math courses or degrees. Currently in the U.S. about 69 million people work in middle-skills jobs, representing roughly 48% of the labor force.*

CCD students are not only prepared for a myriad of these types of jobs, but they can transfer their credits to a four-year school should they choose to continue on that trajectory.

For example, Denver is embarking upon one of the largest transportation infrastructure improvements in the country with the Regional Transportation District’s (RTD) FasTracks program and other projects to modernize the city’s roads and railways.

The demand for the accompanying jobs created by FasTracks must be filled by a steady stream of workforce-ready personnel prepared to move these projects forward. This is where CCD and other community colleges come in. Our role is to fill this pipeline.

For example, the Center for Workforce Initiative (CWI) operates the Workforce Initiative Now (WIN) partnership with Regional Transportation District (RTD) and the Urban League of Metropolitan Denver—a construction and transportation focused community workforce program. WIN is an innovative and groundbreaking workforce partnership led by CCD, Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTD), Denver Transit Partners, and the Urban League of Metropolitan Denver. The program helps connect employers, workers, students and other community partners to develop paths toward career development and advancement, as well as sustainable employment within targeted industries. 

Through innovative programming, CWI helps meet the educational needs of working adults through mentorship, career counseling, training and networking opportunities. This effort also assists CCD’s employer partners with tapping into a high-quality workforce - an all round win for students, employers, the economy and the community.

But perhaps the biggest secret of all is the ability of community college students to participate in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs. Many assume community college students aren’t capable of participating in STEM programs but they are – and they do!

CCD’s Center for Math & Science is a world-class center teaching our students how to use knowledge in the STEM areas for ongoing participation in the workforce, transfer studies, and the world at large. This center of learning prepares intellectually confident students to apply STEM concepts in the global community.

We provide a rich academic foundation in a supportive setting, including accessible, highly qualified faculty and state of the art learning environments. And it pays off with tangible, highly visible dividends.

CCD students participated in the RockSat-C project, which involved designing, building and testing a payload to go on board a Terrier-Orion rocket. The rocket successfully launched 73 miles above Earth from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Part of the Colorado Space Grant Consortium, this project involved designing, building and testing a robotics rover that was entered into the Robotics Challenge at the Great Sand Dunes National Park. 

What’s more, CCD students also participate in the annual Balloon Satellite project that involves designing, building and testing a payload to be launched on a balloon 100,000 feet to the edge of space. The Balloon launched from Windsor, CO twice in the last year, once in November and again in April.

All of this is happening at CCD and other community colleges throughout the U.S. And all in environments that provide rigorous, affordable, and convenient educational opportunities that make a direct impact on the lives of students and the communities in which they live.

Best of all, the credits earned at CCD and other community colleges are largely transferable to four-year institutions, saving students and their families thousands of dollars on the cost of a college education by up to 40 percent.

But to keep pace, as our Vice President put it, “we have to have the most modern workforce in the world.” Community colleges are making sure we do. Just think. As recent as 20 years ago, community colleges were seen as the second choice for higher education. Today, its undeniable contributions to our nation’s economic well-being make it the smart choice for employers and workers alike.

But I am, perhaps, most gratified that Vice President Biden’s confirmation has made the topic an integral part of this nation’s vernacular about sustainable job creation.

I know many of you will agree it is a national conversation that will ultimately serve this country well.

Stay inspired.


* Per Harvard Business Review