By Yves Salomon-Fernández, Ph.D.
With significant demographic transition taking place around the country, like many other sectors, higher education is impacted. The effects of low birth rates and an aging population are impacting enrollment at colleges and universities across the country. The increasingly non-linear pattern of college attendance means that many students take time off after high school before they enter college. Once they enter college, they may go less than full-time or stop out due to a variety of factors. At the same time, the escalating costs of higher education are giving students and their families reason to pause and ask how they can pursue their Bachelor’s degrees in a much more financially savvy manner.
Other changes are also taking place around us, including rapid technological change associated with the “fourth industrial revolution” that are both improving productivity and displacing workers. Changing consumer preferences, growing income disparity, and other predicted and yet unknown changes, call for GCC to examine who we are becoming in this era of change. Our commitment to a liberal arts education is steadfast. At the same time, we are remaining adaptive and flexible for students who wish to pursue a more technical pathway that is not the traditional four-year degree.
We are examining our conception of what college is, specifically what community college is, who goes there, and how GCC contributes to the intellectual and economic vitality in our region. As GCC turns a new chapter, we are engaging varied segments of our community in helping us think through how we can become a more agile, adaptive, and even more responsive college in an age of increasing innovation, globalization, and industry integration. The liberal arts are foundational. We have strong liberal arts programming with particular strength in the visual arts, and extraordinary professional programs. We want to examine access, equity, and affordability in the context of escalating costs. We are committed to remaining a high quality, affordable pathway for all, and a college that is as diverse as the world that our students will live and work in upon graduation.
Complementing our commitment to the liberal arts, professional studies, and transfer to four-year institutions is our commitment to the terminal credentials offered through the vocational trades. In my visits to local businesses over the last few months, it has become clear that our local enterprises serve both regional and international markets. The range of industries they serve is impressive. As we examine the needs of local businesses, GCC will complement its first-rate academic program offerings with a wide range of workforce/career preparation programs. We will build on our already strong foundation of technical programs to be more responsive to the local businesses and empower our local population with the skills to enter high-paying jobs with full benefits in varied local industries.
At GCC, we recognize that the world is changing. We recognize that more students and their families are choosing us as their preferred pathway to an undergraduate degree. They are also choosing us for their first credential en route to a well-paying job and college degree eventually. Their pathways are increasingly non-linear. We are proud that whatever our students’ career aspirations are, short- and long-term, we can help propel them there. Access to higher education and workforce development go hand in hand with creating more resilient and economically prosperous communities.
Yves Salomon-Fernández is President of Greenfield Community College. Her Twitter handle is @PrezYves