This National Community College Month, let’s celebrate Valley’s various colleges | Opinion
For far too long, our Valley has struggled with disparities in health and access to health care, employment, wealth, basic technology, and education. We have experienced rising racial tensions while simultaneously aligned with rising racial consciousness. These challenges have been exacerbated by the impact of the pandemic and political divisiveness. And all these challenges stand a greater chance at resolution with an educated citizenry.
State Center Community College District is central to that resolution. Indeed, at no other time have community colleges mattered more.
April is a special month for 7 million Americans, including 1.8 million Californians and more than 53,000 valley residents who are pursing higher education at a community college. In 1985 Congress authorized and requested then-President Ronald Reagan to issue Proclamation 5418, establishing a “National Community College Month.” This recognition celebrates a uniquely American institution and treasure – the community college.
Today, the California Community Colleges is the largest system of higher education in the nation, with 116 colleges serving more than 1.8 million students. This system is an essential resource for California, its people and economy. Community colleges bring higher education within the reach of every Californian through an open admissions policy that allows everyone to be accepted, a low tuition rate of only $45 per unit, extensive financial assistance programs, superb academic counseling and career guidance, outstanding teaching by dedicated faculty, exceptional career training, and specialized support services for students who need extra help with the transition to college or to the mastery of college-level coursework.
The San Joaquin Valley has a legacy of innovation in education that continues today. Fresno has a special place in this history, as holding the distinction of being home to California’s first, and the nation’s second, community college — Fresno City College was founded in 1910 and ultimately changed higher education in the state. State Center is home to both the first and oldest community college in California and the newest, located in Madera.
Fresno City College is part of the State Center Community College District, which is one of the largest and most successful community college districts in the region, serving more than 53,000 students annually in both urban and rural settings at our four colleges and centers — Fresno City, Reedley College, Clovis Community College, Madera Community College and the Center at Oakhurst and Career Technical Center. The State Center district is a successful provider of educational opportunities for students seeking to enter the workforce and/or wish to transfer to a four-year university, with 41% of our students being the first in their families to attend college.
The colleges of State Center Community College District have increased associate degrees awarded over the past five years by 50%, outperforming the state, which saw a 24% increase.
And during that same period, the colleges of State Center Community College District have increased the total number of awards – degrees and certificates by 80%, far above the state average.
While challenges remain, our colleges are moving the region forward in terms of academic success, improving the economic vitality and lifting all our communities. Our student success is a testament to our dedication to our students and reflects their resilience and desire for a better life. The community’s dedication to building a better future through higher education is also evident by the passage of State Center’s capital improvement facilities bond in 2016.
Progress can be witnessed through our wide range of construction projects in various stages of development — including the much-anticipated west Fresno campus. We are thankful to the Valley voters who approved our facilities bond. State Center’s construction projects reflect the community’s commitment to ensuring all residents can access a better future through education and job training.
Our construction projects certainly bring additional jobs and revenue to the area in the short-term; the long-term impact is far more significant. The colleges of SCCCD provide the backbone of workforce development and public safety, producing the vast majority of employees — including nurses and first responders — for the San Joaquin Valley.
Our community-sponsored construction projects are either completed — Fresno City’s parking structure, Madera Community’s Academic Village 2 and Reedley’s Math, Science and Engineering — or will be completed soon: the Applied Technology Building at Clovis Community, Fine and Performing Arts in Reedley, First Responder Center in Fresno and two Child Development Centers. Again, many thanks to the voters of our region for passing the ballot measures that support the infrastructure projects to make our Valley stronger. As we host many ribbon-cutting ceremonies, the entire community is welcome. After all, we are the “community’s” college.
The word “community” is a value we —hold dear and is the driving force in all we do. In recognition of “National Community College Month” this April, I hope you will join me, along with State Center’s 4,000 employees and 53,000 students, in celebrating the good work we have done together.
With your continued support, the Valley’s future is bright.
Dr. Carole Goldsmith is the chancellor of the State Center Community College District.