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Commentary: Local community colleges ensure real-world survival, success

The College Center building at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa.
The College Center building at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa. A contributor to the Pilot extols the value of a community college education.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

The last three years have seen drastic social changes. Lockdowns stifled movement, income dried up, pursuing new opportunities was difficult, even impossible. Many workplaces, schools and everyday social activities must still be online. Everyone wishes for life to return to normal.

But when the pandemic ends for good, whether in a few months or years, how can we best situate ourselves for the near future?

Local community colleges build a strong foundation and bridge gaps during common challenges ordinary people face.

Despite its hassles, the lockdown has provided an opportunity to catch up on reading, practice specific skills that need improvement or take community college classes. Coastline Community College, for example, offered a well-functioning system for online courses, even as top-ranked schools like Yale charged full tuition for Zoom classes.

Many prisoners, military personnel outside Orange County or the elderly in nursing homes have benefitted from online coursework from Coastline or Orange Coast College. Food pantries, computer loaning services and even mobile Wi-Fi have ensured that lockdowns do not necessarily mean time without material and electronic access to the outside world. I have even seen full courses completed in as few as three days, especially with ample professor support.

Further, our community colleges have strengthened partnerships with relevant organizations to ensure a transition to four-year colleges is seamless and inexpensive. With enough planning and hard work, around 75% (90 units) of a typical bachelor’s degree can transfer to a California public university. Even colleges outside California, including Arizona State University, Louisiana State University and dozens of lesser known 100% online bachelor’s programs accept local California community college classes.

Under the current environment, if everything goes perfectly, a student could go from finishing high school to completing an online bachelor’s degree in under two years and $10,000 before financial aid.

More broadly, how do we ensure all this university-level education leads to real-world success? One of the most viable answers comes from Career and Technical Education programs at community colleges.

For those unfamiliar, CTE is a descendant of traditional vocational education once seen in high schools and colleges. However, unlike vocational education of the past, CTE is better funded and streamlined into the Department of Labor classification system. Contrary to popular belief, CTE education has a lower turnover and higher return on investment per credit hour than traditional liberal arts education.

These factors become even more powerful when someone must know what to do next.

The energy industry presents a relevant example. The early days of the pandemic nearly shut down the lucrative petroleum industry, but now efficient sources of oil supply are in great demand. With gasoline prices still high at the pump, skills in renewable energy will undoubtedly be higher than the commendable pre-pandemic demand of 20% annual industry growth.

How should an eager person take advantage of this immediate demand for skills?

Orange Coast, Golden West and Coastline’s courses on renewable energy installation provide one answer. Likewise, taking the three years of calculus, physics, linear algebra, etc., for transfer to Embry Riddle’s 100% online accredited two-year engineering fundamentals program provides another pathway. When someone becomes employed, earns a regular paycheck and believes their experience makes them a good fit, a four-year college becomes more relevant, desirable and “definitely worth it.”

Joseph Klunder is a native of Newport Beach and now works as a high school teacher and counselor in China. He mentors anyone through the Joseph Klunder Education Challenge and offers a free practice entrance exam at his IELTS academy website.

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