Community Colleges: Rebooted for Today's ChallengesAugust 3, 2021
This opinion-style open letter was co-authored by Dr. Kristine Young (President, SUNY Orange) and Dr. Michael A. Baston (President, SUNY Rockland) and has appeared online at the sites of the Middletown Times Herland-Record and the Rockland Journal News.
Rockland And Orange Community Colleges: Rebooted for Today’s Challenges
By Dr. Michael A. Baston, President of Rockland Community College and Dr. Kristine Young, President of Orange County Community College
It’s time for students and parents to update yesterday’s images about the value of a community college education. In Rockland and Orange counties, our local SUNY Community Colleges are not only transforming people’s impressions of the value of a community college education, but also transforming the lives of our students and our neighbors.
For example, Maria Lopez graduated magna cum laude from SUNY Orange in May 2020 with a degree in Criminal Justice. Residing in Newburgh with her husband and two children, Maria today works for Fearless! (formerly known as Safe Homes of Orange County), a not-for-profit dedicated to supporting victims of domestic violence through supportive services, education, advocacy and prevention. Maria, who interned for Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney while she was a student, says, “SUNY Orange helped shape my life into what it is now. I am a first-generation immigrant from El Salvador and I have invested a lot into my education in the hopes that I may get where I want one day. I also have done it to show my children an example of a hardworking Latina and a mother they can feel proud of.”
And we bet you didn’t know that on our campuses you will also find:
- Budding chefs and restaurant managers firing up their careers in a state-of-the-industry kitchen
- The next generation of nurses, dental hygienists and radiologists developing the skills necessary to serve our regional communities
- Students fast-tracked for high-demand jobs in information technology, cyber security, computer-assisted design, social media branding, new media, human services and public health
- Dual-enrolled high school seniors aspiring to higher degrees guaranteed to have all their credits transfer to regional top four-year colleges
Sure, New York State’s community colleges still retain their traditional strengths, like affordability, for example. At a time when student debt is rising nationwide, nearly 64 percent of those graduating with an associate’s degree have no student loan debt whatsoever.
And convenience; having a top-notch educational option right in your backyard offers a myriad of opportunities for balancing life, work, and studies. You can, indeed, stay near and go far.
There is also the guaranteed transfer to one of the SUNY system’s four-year institutions that our graduates receive.
But SUNY Rockland and SUNY Orange have evolved well beyond those hallmarks. With the hopes and dreams of today’s students facing so many new challenges, we have expanded the very definition of a two-year community college to help them achieve their goals. And we have done it quickly, pivoting in a way that four-year institutions might envy.
While it is important for students to be ready for college, we think it is just as important for colleges to be “student-ready”— meeting students where they are and offering career options that match their needs and desires to the jobs that are and will be available. And one of the real benefits of being a community college is our ability to move quickly and respond to changing needs. Our nimble response to the COVID-19 pandemic offers a case in point: We emerged fully engaged in the technological evolution that has broken down the classroom walls. Our students are now presented with a plethora of opportunities for flexible hybrid learning, as well as a host of virtual support programs.
Another example is the Career Skills Academy at RCC, which we established by partnering with local and regional business representatives to gauge their needs and responding by creating training to fill those open positions. Our proximity to the rapidly rebounding New York City job market makes this program even more valuable.
SUNY Rockland has also broadened its menu options to embrace a field that’s especially hot as the hospitality industry bursts back to life. The Culinary Arts Center in Nyack not only offers degree and fast-track programs, but lets our students whet their appetite for this fast-paced profession at a pop-up restaurant.
Meanwhile, students in the New Media program at SUNY Orange are being positioned to capitalize on the growing opportunities within the digital realm, while the College’s Public Health program provides graduates with a new pathway into expanding post-COVID healthcare fields. The College is awaiting pending SUNY approval for new degree programs in Healthcare Administration and Web Development.
We challenge you to let go of the outdated concept that a community college is a last resort, and instead understand the significant value offered at RCC and OCCC and then place these SUNY campuses of higher learning at the top of the list for the best place to jumpstart your future.