Community college students juggle a lot of responsibilities. Most work at least part time, many have families to care for and homework doesn't do itself.
Successfully keeping all those balls in the air requires focus, determination and maturity -- traits that hold a lot of weight with recruiters from businesses and four-year universities.
"If you can juggle family, working, homework, school, internships -- I want you. It's just as simple as that," says Maureen Crawford Hentz, director of talent management for A.W. Chesterton Co., a global manufacturing corporation headquartered in Massachusetts.
In fact, when given the choice between two equally qualified applicants, Hentz leans toward the one with community college on his or her resume, she says, comparing that student to Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.
"Both were great dancers, but Rogers did it backwards and in heels," she says, reciting a famous quote. "Community college students do it backwards and in heels."
That ability to multitask can't be taught, she says, and is one of the reasons A.W. Chesterton forged a partnership with Northern Essex Community College in Massachusetts.
Through the program, advanced manufacturing students at NECC take core classes such as machining, blueprint reading and geometric dimensioning. Once they have a foundation, they shadow employees at A.W. Chesterton and later intern with the company.
This gives students exposure to a field before committing to it, and gives employers an "internship-long interview," Hentz says.
While A.W. Chesterton's partnership with NECC is new, it is already proving to be fruitful, Hentz says, adding that the company is "very interested" in hiring a few of the students who participated in the program.
[Learn how to find your career path at a community college.]
More established partnerships, like those at City Colleges of Chicago, have led to job opportunities for dozens of students each year, says Cheryl Hyman, chancellor of the community college network.
Rush University Medical Center, for example, hired 20 City College students last year, Hyman says. And Aon, a global insurance company, hired nine students for internships, two of whom were promoted to full-time positions.
JMC Steel Group, a national pipe and tube manufacturer, has also hired students and alumni from City Colleges of Chicago--Richard J. Daley College. Emmanuel Oshodi-Glover, a student at the school, is one of the company's recent hires.
Oshodi-Glover will complete his associate degree in May, but is already working full-time at JMC Steel. After work, he attends classes for three hours each night, and then starts his homework.
"Though it's busy, I enjoy it," he says. "My time in the classroom has drastically increased my technical manufacturing skills."
Businesses are not the only ones interested in community college graduates. These students are also in high demand at four-year colleges.
Students with associate degrees have already proven they are not just ready for college, but committed to it, says Wray Blair, associate provost for enrollment management at Frostburg State University in Maryland.
"Community college graduates are often some of our strongest students," he says. "These students succeed and retain at a very high rate and are often positive campus role models."
[Make the leap from community college to a four-year university.]
The high quality of instruction at many two-year colleges is also an advantage, says Daniel Thompson, dean of enrollment management at St. Catherine University in Minnesota.
"Students who begin college in community colleges tend to be very well-prepared to continue and be successful on almost any four-year college or university campus," he said via email.
While USC has been recruiting community college students for decades, Nikias says the university has ramped up efforts over the last few years.
"The reality is that some students with the right combination of talent, creativity and personality will not begin their academic careers at a selective private university," he wrote. "Some of the most academically driven may hone their skills and prove themselves in a two-year program, emerging more motivated, more mature and hungrier than ever."
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