Community Colleges Coming of Age: Focused on Community Need

  Dr. Timothy Meyer

Dr. Timothy Meyer

By Dr. Timothy Meyer

When most community colleges opened their doors 50 years ago, they were expected to be everything to everyone. They offered courses and programs open to all who were seeking or exploring higher education opportunities. During this time, community colleges quickly grew in size and scope, offering degrees and certificates in numerous career fields and university transfer degrees focused on business, science and liberal arts.

Oakland Community College (OCC), currently the largest of 28 community colleges in Michigan, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. To meet community need, OCC expanded beyond its original programming to include workforce development, corporate training and economic development. Since 1991, OCC has constructed several new facilities specifically to support these efforts, including the Advanced Technology Center, featuring advanced manufacturing and robotics programs; the M-TEC facility for the burgeoning IT industry; the Combined Regional Emergency Services Training (CREST) center, the first facility and program of its kind to bring together emergency and public safety agencies for combined training; and most recently, OCC installed state-of-the-art healthcare labs and equipment at its Southfield Campus.

Contributing to the workforce
As OCC marks a half-century in the community, it has contributed significantly to the region’s workforce. The college has:

• Prepared more than 30,000 graduates in applied technologies and business administration for local employers, and 7,000 nurses for healthcare systems.
• Trained more than 5,000 graduates who serve as firefighters, police officers, EMTs and dispatchers.
• Forged over 200 transfer agreements with colleges and universities, enabling our students to go on to a myriad of professions requiring advanced training, including doctors, lawyers and engineers.
• Granted degrees and certificates to more than 81,000 graduates.
• Retrained thousands of dislocated workers when unemployment spiked in the 1980s and again in 2008.
• Partnered with corporations like HP, Kelly Services and EDS to create customized new-hire programs when the economy rebounded and new businesses couldn’t find skilled workers.  
• Delivered in excess of $45 million in corporate training to businesses, including General Motors, Chrysler, HP, Kelly Services, Garden Fresh and hundreds of other employers large and small.
• Participated in the Michigan New Jobs Training program, generating over $9.5 million in funding to support the creation of new jobs in the region.

A new emphasis
There is much to celebrate in our past, but as most community colleges make their way into the second half of their first century, higher education is faced with increased pressures for accountability to taxpayers, the community, students, business, industry, accreditors, state and federal government for achievement of outcomes, and most important, accountability to ensure students succeed.

How are OCC and our peers poised to address this new level of accountability?  We are placing new emphasis on student goal attainment — not just providing access to higher education. At OCC, we have joined the Higher Learning Commission’s Student Persistence and Completion Academy with a goal of significantly improving graduation rates by 2018. We have conducted groundbreaking research on transferability of courses to four-year institutions. We have obtained grants to upgrade equipment, and led dual enrollment and early-college initiatives by partnering with K-12 systems — all to increase student success.

OCC, together with our peer institutions, is positioned for another half-century of innovation, partnership and development of a healthy and prosperous community.

Dr. Timothy Meyer, Oakland Community College chief executive officer, is focusing the college on meeting community need, one student at a time. He joined OCC in 2008 after serving as president of Sault College in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. He holds a doctorate degree, two master’s degrees and two bachelor’s degrees and serves in a number of leadership positions in higher education and business.