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Commentary: Local community colleges are essential for global needs

Students walk between classes at Orange Coast Community College.
Students walk between classes at Orange Coast Community College. A teacher and counselor praises the benefits of community colleges in a Daily Pilot commentary.
(File Photo)

Even on the other side of the Pacific, I often think of my home community of Newport Beach.

While the coronavirus has stabilized in China for over a year, everyone knows how difficult it is to contain the virus, get everyone vaccinated and ensure everyone is well-supplied and productive during sudden and lengthy quarantines.

I always praise local community colleges for their institutional role. During lockdowns at home, the biggest challenge is using downtime, often with limited resources. Having already had an online distance learning system, Coastline Community College was poised to take advantage in ways even top-ranked universities could not. While Yale faced lawsuits for charging full tuition for online Zoom classes, Coastline was operating as it always has and could accommodate extra students as well.

In my downtime since the pandemic started, I have been doing much more online, as both a student and teacher. With one more push to finish this upcoming fall semester of classes, I will have received 10 associates degrees in various subjects as a form of personal enrichment. Additionally, I have volunteered some of my teaching materials to teach English as ESL and for incoming refugees from Afghanistan. I teach and mentor immigrants who wish to be in needed fields, like home health aides, and can receive immigration to the U.S., Canada and Australia by having skills that are in demand.

While formal education in arcane ideology has often been considered the province of the wealthy with leisure time, people of all social strata could benefit. In particular, I praise the Career and Technical Education Department for its extensive training and practical approach. With the pandemic’s rapid and widespread impact, we can see the need for health professionals around the world for the foreseeable future. Allied Health programs at OCC would allow people to double their current wage-earning ability in one to two years of formal study.

With the federal government and California stimulus checks, extra stipends for children, and exceptional circumstances workers, some marginalized people who often worked at minimum enjoyed up to $1,000 a week to pay for housing, food, transportation, clothes and children’s expenses. Why not take advantage of the rebounding employment market by getting extra skills to ensure this living standard on fair market wages?

With income-based fee waivers, computer and book-sharing programs, and even cash-based financial aid, the cost of attaining more associate degrees and skills-based certificates becomes almost free. For those in a profession such as a doctor, nurse, lawyer or manager, more “middle skills” will only help with diversity and improved quality of life.

Architecture students who struggled to access computers and software during the pandemic may now look ahead to a brighter school year, thanks to the efforts of Irvine-based design firm LPA.

Perhaps most relevant, Kristoffer Toribio of the Global Engagement Center of Orange Coast College has now begun his duties as president of the International Assn. of College Admissions Counseling. In some ways, he has become one of the most well-connected men in higher education. Anybody with ambitions would be wise to utilize his open-door policy and speak to him.

In these last two weeks, we have seen the unfortunate events of Afghanistan unravel. Our veterans and perhaps thousands of refugees will become part of the existing Persian and Afghan communities in Newport Beach and Irvine. While multitrillion-dollar wars and military aid were unsuccessful, let us see if great energy and investment in local social services can make a longer-lasting impact.

A person transitioning from homelessness to Harvard medical school or law school in a single afternoon may be unrealistic, but getting basic high school equivalency, ESL, dorm housing, health services, liberal arts, relevant job skills and affordable places to transfer to may be more feasible than initially thought. Many people in Orange County want a better future, many U.S. service members are still transitioning back to life in America, and there may be many arrivals soon. Best to put resources and commitment into local community services with a proven track record of success.

Joseph Klunder is a teacher and counselor. He grew up in Newport Beach and is currently a teacher and counselor in Beijing.

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