COMMENTARY: Local investment critical to local economy

Community colleges have had their fair share of publicity in the past few years. I, for one, have been very pleased to see this oft-maligned sector of higher education be recognized for the contributions community colleges make to the local, regional, and national economy.

Nearly half of all undergraduates in the United States attend community colleges, and with good reason. These open-access institutions serve a diverse student population. From recent high school graduates to adult learners, the affordability and flexibility offered by community colleges can help put any student’s educational and career goals within reach.

As the president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges, I have the privilege of interacting with the 1,108 community colleges in the nation. Community colleges serve nearly half of all undergraduates and train millions of Americans for high paying jobs. Among the finest is Delaware Technical Community College.

Delaware Technical Community College (DTCC) has a long history of serving students and the community. Putting Delawareans to work, DTCC has a successful track record of providing both transfer and career education, including nursing, allied health, and advanced manufacturing. From 350 students when they began to today’s more than 35,000, DTCC continues to put Delaware’s students first.

The state recently announced its plan to develop and strengthen public-private partnerships in order to enhance economic and workforce development throughout Delaware. Throughout the country, community colleges work with local and regional government and businesses to develop and implement training and skill-building programs that are truly mutually beneficial partnerships. These programs benefit students by teaching skills that can be applied to available jobs and local businesses benefit by having a pool of qualified employees ready to work. DTCC is a part of that great network and can mobilize to meet the needs of students and employers and bring them together.

Developing programs and services that support students and the community requires an investment in facilities and infrastructure. As tuition continues to increase throughout higher education, I believe that more students will see community college as a viable option for their higher education. In order for community colleges to remain the low-cost, high-quality institutions they are now, it is important that states maintain investments in the facilities and programs that are provided by community colleges. At DTTC, tuition has increased more than the national average, giving the college few options to draw upon to address sorely needed facilities and infrastructure repairs.

Consider the DTCC “investment” as you would your home and it’s easy to see the rationale for an infrastructure bond. Homeowners know that a portion of the costs for your home are maintenance and repairs. It would be prudent to set aside a small portion of your income to cover these needs. The same applies to the facilities and infrastructure needs at a college campus. DTCC is in an unfortunate position of having to maintain over one-million square feet of facility space without being funded to do so. Many times maintenance is deferred because of budget concerns. In 2006, DTTC identified $40 million in deferred maintenance needs. Today, that number is closer to $90 million and only increasing.

DTCC has strategically identified a way to bridge the funding gap that will provide for public accountability on all fronts without impacting student tuition costs. While DTCC’s capital funding will not rely on State support, they will remain accountable to the State’s capital budget committee, its Board of Trustees, its students and, ultimately, the Delaware’s taxpayers. DTCC is committed to strict accountability and reporting in order to uphold the public trust. And, any infusion of much-needed facilities funds has the potential to create hundreds of local construction jobs.

DTCC’s success means success for the community and the state. In a recent study, it was clear that Delaware students that earn their education at DTCC are more likely to stay in the area and contribute to the local economy by obtaining a job and purchasing a home. In other words, they are likely to invest in their future and in the local communities. These same students will likely become tax-paying homeowners that will continue to benefit from the offerings at DTCC – it’s a win-win.

DTCC continues to invest in Delaware students and I am hopeful that Delawareans will continue to invest in Delaware Technical Community College. Education is always an investment that pays dividends for everyone.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Walter G. Bumphus, Ph.D. is president and CEO of American Association of Community Colleges.


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