In many small cities and towns, community colleges are more than educational institutions. They function as civic centers, host wedding receptions and offer free cultural events.
Local businesses rely heavily on community colleges for workforce development. Cape Cod Community College contacted a group of regional startup companies and created an associate degree in engineering. The school also predicted that energy efficiency and renewable energy would be key industries for the area. Three certificate programs were launched in photovoltaic, thermal and wind technology to train workers for the rapidly expanding renewable energy industry.
Wine is one of the fastest growing industries in Washington state. Yakima Valley Community College created associate degrees in viticulture and enology. The college also opened a teaching winery and two winery incubators -- two startups that offer students on-the-job experience.
Rural communities depend upon their community colleges to train healthcare professionals. Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey, Illinois created the Nurse Managed Center providing valuable experience for students studying for an RN degree. The Center provides an important link between the academic program and clinical experience in a Center staffed by nurse practitioners. There is also a mobile health unit to bring services to remote corners of the state.
The city of Terre Haute, Ind., reached out to Ivy Tech Community College as part of its effort to receive seed money for workforce development projects A finalist in the America's Best Communities competition, Terre Haute received $50,000 to work with Ivy Tech and others to develop a comprehensive strategy to improve the city's economy and quality of life. The competition was created by Frontier Communications to help rural communities compete for more than $10 million in prize money. Terre Haute has a chance for one of the top prizes ($3 million, $2 million, and $1 million), which would put that strategy effectively to work.
Unlike students in other college towns, individuals getting a degree or certification at a community college usually stay there. They become the city's police officers, nurses, firefighters and chefs.
Many high school students enroll at a community college in their senior year to get academic credit at a reduced price. These courses can then be applied to their freshman year at a community college or a four year institution.
Community colleges are integral and important partners with local municipalities. The positive town-gown relations are pivotal to these institutions.
So when opportunities come along for economic development, towns and small cities frequently turn to the local community college to help them plan, to prepare the workers, and to give them a competitive edge. I'm rooting for Terre Haute, and I'll bet there are 49 other community college leaders hoping that the winners of America's Best Communities will be some of their own