Viewpoint: Community colleges are a unique treasure
Apr 02, 2014 | 697 views | 0 0 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A couple weeks ago I got an email from the Tennessee Board of Regents office alerting me that April is National Community College Month.

To tell you the truth, I had no idea. Being one who does not want to pass up a good opportunity, we started looking for ways to promote the great things happening at Cleveland State. After just one contact with the Cleveland Daily Banner, Stephen Crass and his team responded with a great plan to help us celebrate our special month.

Thanks to our community paper you will learn more about your community college. Each Wednesday this month, you will find a column [a guest “Viewpoint”] written by a Cleveland State administrator or faculty member highlighting exciting activities at Cleveland State. Each Sunday during the month you will be able to read about some of our students. Cleveland State is an amazingly diverse community. So many of our students succeed in the face of significant challenges, and you will be inspired by their stories.

Since this is also the month that baseball gets into full swing, I guess I can describe my role here as the lead-off hitter. So let me start off with some basic information that you may or may not know.

In less than three years, Cleveland State will be celebrating its 50th anniversary of service in Southeast Tennessee. Cleveland State was one of the original three community colleges created as part of the state system, opening its doors in 1967. At that time, classes were taught at North Cleveland Baptist Church while the first buildings were under construction on our main campus. Today, we are proud of an additional campus in Athens, as well as dual enrollment classes taught through 11 area high schools.

As a comprehensive community college, Cleveland State’s service area includes Bradley, Polk, McMinn, Meigs and Monroe counties. We offer the associate of arts, associate of science and associate of applied science degrees, along with several certificate programs. Over the last few years, our annual enrollment has been approximately 3,500 students. We also provide learning opportunities through noncredit programs to another 1,500 students.

Many people think that most students come to Cleveland State to pursue a transfer program to a four-year college or university. While this has always been a hallmark of our school, today half of our students focus on degrees and certificates that will lead them directly to the workforce. Today, more than ever, colleges like Cleveland State are called upon to partner with business and industry to provide the skilled labor force that is demanded by rapidly changing technology and the economy.

Two-year grads also find great-paying jobs. Today in Tennessee, the average first-year salary of community college grads is higher than those of four-year college grads.

You might also be surprised to know that Cleveland State is the No. 1 choice of students graduating from high schools in our service area. More of these students attend Cleveland State than any other college. Some of this relates to our mission as an open-access institution. We give everyone with a high school diploma or GED an opportunity for an education and a better life. Another significant factor is that our costs are the most affordable in the area. Tuition at a community college is half that of four-year public universities and a fraction of private schools.

Uniquely, Cleveland State is also a popular choice of adults starting or returning to college. Over one-third of our students are 25 years or older. Due to our low cost and flexible programs, students who need to juggle school with jobs and family commitments find a supportive atmosphere at Cleveland State.

Quality and diverse educational programs at the best price, with the prospect of making a good living, is an impressive combination. No wonder our governor wants everyone to have a chance at a community college education! More on this to come.

I hope you enjoy learning more about your community college throughout this month. I invite you to celebrate National Community College Month with us.

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(About the writer: Dr. Bill Seymour is president of Cleveland State Community College and can be contacted at wseymour@clevelandstatecc.edu.)