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Community Colleges are the Best Choice 

July 11, 2006

By Dr. Benjamin T. Duran
President of Merced College

The summer session has just begun. The fall semester is just around the corner. Students are filling classrooms and once again Merced College is teeming with activity. In addition to our older students, hundreds of children are taking part in College for Kids activities. Some of these young students are learning to swim. Others are taking theater classes, archery, writing workshops, Spanish, pre-algebra, and marine biology.

As I walk across the campus, I am reminded of the vital role Merced College plays in the local community and how many lives this institution touches each year. From the very young to the not-so-young, Merced College offers a valuable educational experience. On May 26 more than 479 students earned degrees and certificates during our 43rd annual Commencement exercises. Many of these students are ready to move on to four-year institutions to continue their education. Many others have gained training and work skills and are prepared to enter the workforce.

Occasionally, someone will capture the public’s attention by speaking out about the value of a community college education. They’ll point out the quality of that education and the affordability of it for most Americans. They’ll remind everyone that community colleges are the best choice for the first two years of a baccalaureate program, for job training, and for life-long learning. Invariably, they’ll remark that community colleges are important engines of workforce and economic development. And, they’ll conclude that community colleges are a wise investment in our nation’s ability to compete and enhance the potential of its citizens. These remarks do not come as a surprise to us at Merced College because we are dedicated to students success. Yet, as we toot our own horns, it’s nice to hear someone else support what we know already.

That’s the case with William D. Green, CEO of Accenture, a multi-million dollar consulting firm with $17 billion in revenue and 130,000 employees worldwide. Green published an article on community colleges in the May 1 issue of Newsweek magazine. The article, “We’ve Overlooked One of Our Greatest Assets,” makes a strong, personal case for community colleges.

Green, who attended Dean College in Massachusetts, wrote “Would I be running a global company today if I’d followed a different path? There is no doubt that my two years at Dean College not only prepared me for advancing my education and gearing up for a career, but also transformed me as a person.”

Green believes that community colleges can help America regain its competitive edge. “I can’t think of any other institution so tuned into the needs of our communities,” he writes. “Community colleges excel at working with local businesses to identify specific needs, whether helping displaced autoworkers gain new job skills or helping local companies ensure they will have a steady supply of skilled workers.” He notes that community colleges train more than half of the nation’s registered nurses.

Further, he writes, “Chances are, if there’s a large manufacturing plant in your town, your community college offers technical training in conjunction with the plant. Better skills and better pay lead to happier, more productive employees. That boosts the economy, which gives us all a better standard of living.”

Merced College is just one of 109 community colleges in California. The California Community College system is the largest system of higher education in the world, enrolling more than 2.5 million students each year. The state’s community colleges serve one-third of all community college students in the United States.

We’ve long known that our transfer students outperform students who begin their academic careers at a CSU or UC. Not only do community college transfer students graduate in greater numbers than native CSU or UC students, they also achieve higher grade point averages. Former University of California President Richard Atkinson once told me that he believed community college transfer students have taken the best path to get to the UC. In fact, he said, they enter the UC with a real advantage over non-community college transfer students, who have not been given the kind of personal attention that is possible from community college staff and instructors. Clearly, the education our students receive contributes to their success at their four-year institutions.

Merced College continues to increase the amount of university transfer students each year. Last year, 386 students transferred to one of California’s public four-year institutions. CSU Stanislaus, which accepts the majority of our transfer students, had 218 Merced College students enroll. CSU Fresno enrolled 79 of our students, and CSU Sacramento enrolled 17. Closer to home, UC Merced accepted 27 Merced College transfer students last fall and 19 students so far have indicated they will attend this fall.

These numbers indicate that we are succeeding in our mission of preparing students for their junior and senior years in a baccalaureate program.

While transfer trends in the San Joaquin Valley continue to lag behind state averages, Merced College is making every effort to prepare students for the next step in their college education. We are currently in the process of constructing new educational facilities, thanks to local and state funding. A new instructional facility, the Bill and Dorothy Bizzini Interdisciplinary Academic Center opened last year. A new library, our Learning Resources Center, will open in the Fall of 2007. And, in Los Banos, a completely new campus is being constructed to meet the needs of residents of the Westside of Merced County. These are only a few of the important initiatives we are undertaking to meet the future educational needs of our community.

Green, who now serves on his alma mater’s board of trustees, urges the young people he meets to consider going to a community college. “Community colleges can help them become better equipped to continue their education and to face real-world challenges. These colleges can smooth their transition from high school to work life, provide them with core decision-making skills and teach them how to think and learn.”

Finally, Green concludes that we as a nation, as businesses, and as individuals, have an obligation to provide financial support to our community colleges. “. . . as state support, which constitutes an estimated 44 percent of community college’s financial resources, continues to decline . . . We can show our support by donating funds, recruiting students, offering career counseling and encouraging our employees to teach classes.”

Merced College serves the best interests of our community. Our excellence is measured by the success of our students and by the satisfaction of our customers, which is potentially every resident of Merced County, young and old alike. We know we’re doing a great job. It’s just nice to hear someone else say the same thing.

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