Colorado community colleges rise during challenging time

Guest column by Joe Garcia
Posted 4/28/20

Have any of us ever seen anything like this before? Shuttered and locked businesses. Stay-at-home orders. School-aged children underfoot as we struggle to adapt to remote work and …

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Colorado community colleges rise during challenging time

Posted

Have any of us ever seen anything like this before?

Shuttered and locked businesses. Stay-at-home orders. School-aged children underfoot as we struggle to adapt to remote work and “self-isolating.” Millions suddenly out of work and a stalled economy.

The impacts of the COVID-19 epidemic are overwhelming, inescapable and unprecedented, at least in our lifetimes. It is enough — more than enough — to make us feel lost and, worse, hopeless.

How we choose to respond to the current crisis will define our future, and the good news is that Colorado has always been resilient.

We have suffered through floods, fires and blizzards, and we have learned that we are adaptable, that we will pitch in to help our neighbor, and that we can still find groceries and toilet paper if we look hard enough.

For most of us, there is a sense of optimism that we will soon emerge, if not unscathed from the crisis, at least with most of our institutions and systems intact.

While COVID-19 may have brought much of our country to a standstill, we know we need to keep moving, and it is our educational institutions that can fuel our recovery. In fact, almost all of those institutions are still functioning and still fulfilling their missions.

While our students are no longer on our campuses and in our residence halls, what we are doing now at the Colorado Community College System hasn’t stopped and hasn’t changed. Through our 13 colleges and 40 locations, we still offer more than 5,000 courses and 2,000 degree and certificate programs, serving more than 125,000 college students. The south metro Denver region is served by Arapahoe Community College.

In the midst of this pandemic, we are still open for business and almost all of our students are continuing their education this semester, although most of them are doing so through online or remote instruction.

None of this is new to us. We have been delivering academic as well as career and technical education courses online for decades and we are good at it. Our students earn meaningful degrees and credentials that enable them to directly enter the workforce or transfer their credits to four-year colleges and universities in Colorado and beyond.

Our low-tuition, flexible schedules, online courses, and student supportive services make it possible even for those who are working and raising families, or who face other obstacles to traditional college life.

Many of our students come from vulnerable populations that are taking the hardest hits right now. Parents, employees, mid-career changers, the recently unemployed, and those for whom high school is a distant memory, can find a place and a program for them. They need an education now, more than ever, because we know that even as our economy recovers, it will look very different than it did before.

During the last decade in which we clawed our way out of the Great Recession, individuals with college certificates or degrees filled virtually all of the millions of new jobs created. Left behind were those whose ambitions ended with the completion of a high school diploma.

College matters, and college includes everything from the traditional liberal arts leading to a four-year degree to programs of study that may take only one or two years to complete.

Our academic programs lead to guaranteed transfer to dozens of outstanding universities where you can complete your bachelor’s degree, and more. Our shorter certificate and associate degree programs lead to satisfying careers in fields as diverse as medicine, law enforcement, firefighting, construction, transportation, the trades, and too many others to list here.

Employers know the value of the well-educated employee, and they know our colleges and our programs make their employees even more productive and valuable.

Now is the time to look to your local community college and to discover the vast range of courses, programs, certificates and degrees that you can complete while studying from home, and at very low cost.

Now is the time to pursue that new degree or course that will improve your life, your income, and your future. Turn the crisis of the moment into the opportunity of your lifetime. Colorado’s community colleges stand ready to help and we are committed to your success.

You need an education, and Colorado needs you, now more than ever.

Joe Garcia is chancellor of the Colorado Community College System, the state’s largest system of higher education and workforce development.

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