Opinion: Community colleges are serving the nation well



With the start of the academic year days away, we are reminded of the important role public postsecondary education plays in the lives of our students and the communities in which they live. In fact, Minnesota State, a system of 30 colleges and seven universities, of which North Community College is a member, educates 80 percent of Minnesota’s workforce. In a May 2017 survey conducted by New America, a think tank based in Washington, 75 percent of respondents said it’s easier to be successful with a degree than without one, and 71 percent of respondents believe college is primarily a social good and a private benefit for individual graduates. In addition, respondents had favorable beliefs about community colleges:
• Eighty-two percent believe community college is worth the cost.
• Eighty percent believe community college prepares people to be successful.
• Eighty-three percent believe community college contributes to a strong American workforce.
I would like to share how North Hennepin Community College is contributing to the areas of cost, student success and workforce.
Higher education is the key to economic success for students. We know cost is a driving force behind selecting a postsecondary institution, and we are proud that NHCC offers one of the lowest tuition rates in the state. Students attending NHCC pay approximately 60 percent less in tuition and fees than students at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities without sacrificing a quality education.
With the addition of NHCC’s University Center, students can complete a bachelor’s degree on campus through four-year university partnerships, reducing transportation costs. In addition, nearly 60 percent of our students receive grants and scholarships to help pay for college. This fall, 500 high school students will earn college credits at no cost to them through postsecondary enrollment options (PSEO) and concurrent enrollment programs.
NHCC serves a diverse student population – 85 percent attend part-time, 25 is the average age, 46 percent are students of color, 38 percent are low income, and 57 percent are first generation or the first in their family to attend college. Our students come to NHCC for many different reasons, juggling college, work and family commitments, and we are proud of their success. At NHCC, student success means a student has completed a program of study and entered the workforce, or has transferred to a four-year institution. To help students succeed, we provide comprehensive advising, tutoring, multicultural programming, undergraduate research opportunities, food cupboard and health clinic, to name a few.
Through NHCC’s operations, we generate income and stimulate spending that benefits our communities. A recent Wilder Research study noted that NHCC generates an annual economic impact of $276 million and 2,628 jobs in the Twin Cities area. As mentioned in last month’s column, NHCC collaborates with organizations to meet workforce demands with skilled workers. Some of these partnerships include our Metropolitan Council-supported LRT Build program, our partnership with Hennepin County to deliver much needed human services employees, and our participation in the Association for Manufacturing Excellence Twin Cities Consortia.
This data is critical as we plan for the future to meet the needs of our diversified communities and workforce. I admit it’s easy to get lost in the numbers. However, the fact remains that what motivates our faculty and staff every day is the opportunity to engage students, change lives and serve communities.

Barbara McDonald is president of North Hennepin Community College.