Community Colleges: Beating the Competition

We're a country that prides itself on winning, whether we're racking up Olympics medals or economic success stories. Unfortunately, the U.S. no longer ranks at the top in a key area: degree attainment. Recent figures show we rank 13th in the world in the number of young adults with a college degree. The good news is that community colleges can help propel us back to the top, starting with some of our own winning students.

These community college students can hold their own against students from four-year colleges and universities. Montgomery College students have proven this fact repeatedly. So rather than blog this month about challenges faced by community college students, I have chosen to highlight our many student success stories -- like these three:

For the second consecutive year, Montgomery College won the annual Cumberland Valley Math Modeling Challenge! That includes a victory last year over West Point Military Academy, the defending champion. Math Club members Alex Getachew, Yi Liu, and Sandra Nouketcha comprised this year's winning team, and were supported by club sponsor Dr. Milton Nash.

The teams had 24 hours to tackle a real world problem: devising their own ranking system in response to President Obama's recent call for a national ranking system for institutions of higher education. Students were judged on collaboration, creativity, writing, and even effective presentation. And their fellow competitors judged them -- the winner is determined by other competitors using a system of peer review. Sandra Nouketcha, co-president of the Math Club and a member of our winning team, had this to say about her experience:

"In addition to the ability to think critically, I would say teamwork was a key component for producing an outstanding result. Our topic was challenging, yet it was inspiring, especially since it related more to us as students... It was exciting to successfully represent MC and take part in this competition. How do I feel about it? I just can't wait to do it again if the opportunity presents itself!"

Our business students also performed well under pressure earlier this year. Montgomery College students received runner-up honors in the International Business Ethics Case Competition (IBECC). The event was hosted by Loyola Marymount University and St. Thomas University and was held in conjunction with the Ethics & Compliance Officer Association's (ECOA) annual Sponsoring Partnering Forum. Each participating team chose a relevant business issue related to ethics, prepared a presentation covering the legal, financial, and ethical dimensions of the case, and proposed a solution to the problem.

I am so proud of student presenters Attom Oshima, Joey Peacock, Deepak Sharma, Harleen Singh, and Shannon Taruc, as well as their team advisor Brian Baick. One particularly exciting aspect of the competition: not only did the MC team compete against US institutions, but this year included teams from Hungary, Denmark, Spain, France, Turkey, Vietnam, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Our students truly got to experience global competition first hand!

I'm also proud to share that community college students are exceling in one of our newest programs, cybersecurity. The Montgomery College Cybersecurity Club's new digital forensics team took first place in the 1st Annual Maryland Digital Forensics Investigation Challenge last November.The program was sponsored by the Department of Defense Cyber Crime Center. Twenty-five teams from Maryland high schools, community colleges, and four-year institutions around the state participated. We're very proud of team members Chris Williams and Aizaz Ahmad and Dr. C.K. Chiang, the team faculty sponsor and coach.

So what did all three wining teams have in common?

• All three team participants had access to dedicated faculty in small classes. Despite enrolling over 26,000 students in our credit programs, our average class size is about 19 students.

• They worked to build up their relevant workplace skills outside the classroom by joining clubs, working in teams, and pushing one another to succeed.

• The students are majoring in fields with forecasted growth in our county; areas like business, finance, math and information technology.

• And, our winning students look like our increasingly diverse county, state, and country. In Montgomery County, there is no longer a "majority race" -- instead, there are many races and cultures represented in our population and student body. These students are crucial in filling the job openings of the future.

Math Professor Milton Nash, who accompanied our Math Club students to their competition, made a particularly powerful point about our students.

"Not only did they hold their own against teams from four-year schools but they proved a much larger point. Mathematics is often seen as a field that is not very welcoming to women and people of color. Our team was international. It was from the emerging world. And two of the three team members were women. It looked very much like the future. Our team showed that diversity can be a strength in STEM."

Here's to many more winning teams -- not just from Montgomery College, but from our many outstanding community colleges across the country. Collectively, community colleges are a powerful team, ready to support students in the classroom, in collegiate competitions, and in the workforce. Because frankly, access to affordable, high quality education at community colleges is exactly how our country will excel against its competitors. Game on!