It’s hard to say what has changed the most in the last 50 years — the campus, the student or the community.
But it is clear how far Lorain County Community College has come since its early days when it was informally referred to as “Abbe Road Tech.” The college now attracts 25 percent of all high school graduates in Lorain County and has established partnerships with 11 colleges in Ohio, allowing students to earn bachelors degrees at an average savings of about $60,000. The college has become, in other words, a college of first choice for graduating high school students.
“We have a much larger percentage of younger students coming,” says LCCC president Dr. Roy Church. “As the cost of higher education and the debt burden that kids have to accrue continues to rise, we’re seeing more kids coming directly out of high school as the first stop toward the baccalaureate degree.”
And that’s only half the picture: The college has also become a game-changer in Lorain County. A new building is under construction that could put the college — and Lorain County — on the cutting edge of an emerging technology with the potential to revolutionize manufacturing.
“Our two major goals are to continue to help grow the talent and, at the same time, helping to grow the jobs so that graduates can live work and enjoy the quality of life in our community,” Church says. “We have a lot of work to do on a lot of fronts.”
In 1947, the Truman Commission called for a network of low-cost community colleges to serve soldiers returning home from World War II. Lorain County got in on the action when the local League of Women Voters successfully petitioned the state to grant a charter to establish such a school. Lorain County Community College was launched in 1963 as the Lorain Institute of Technology in downtown Lorain and was the first permanent community college in Ohio.
More land was needed, however, and the acres and acres of farmland in Elyria looked like a good fit.
Five-year-old Hope Moon knew the land well. She lived in downtown Lorain, but visited her grandparents’ fruit and vegetable farm every chance she could get. Her grandfather, Howard, drove her around on his tractor, stopping wherever she wanted to grab a peach, tomato or pea pods. “She’s going to get sick,” Hope’s mother would yell.
Along with two other landowners, Olive and Howard Moon agreed to sell their farm, and it’s now part of the 250 acres on which LCCC sits. “My grandmother was a teacher,” Moon says, “so she was a huge advocate for education.”
Moon didn’t stray far from the farm. She now works for LCCC as the interim dean for allied health and nursing and has let Church know exactly what her grandmother would think of what has happened on her land. “I always tell him that my grandmother is smiling down on him,” she says. “We’ve gone from a small community college to this — we’re the size of a university. Our philosophy is we’re here to serve the community.”
Tracy Green, the vice president for strategic and institutional development at LCCC, points to one early event as critical to the college’s future — the establishment of the Lorain County Community College foundation in 1973. “It was unheard of,” she says. “And it really speaks to the leadership that was in place.
During the college’s 50 years, it has only had five presidents, and the current president has been with the college for 25 years.
When Church arrived at LCCC in 1987, the country had just come out of a three-year recession. “Lorain County had 25 percent unemployment and 80 companies had closed their doors in that three-year period,” he notes.
The change from a traditional assembly-line economy to a knowledge-based economy of advanced manufacturing had begun. An era was ending. To LCCC leadership, that was painfully obvious, but to many it wasn’t.
“There was still the perception that there were plentiful jobs that did not require a college education that could enable a person to earn a good living,” Church says. “The reality is that education beyond high school is critical. Those jobs that used to be accessible with a high school diploma only have essentially evaporated.”
But it was not LCCC’s mission simply to prepare students for a new economy. LCCC leaders knew they also had to improve the economy in Lorain County as well. “That is the natural progression of what community colleges should be doing in support of its local community,” Church says. “Our college has tried very hard to live out that purpose.”
To that end, the Great Lakes Innovation and Development Enterprise (GLIDE) was founded in 2001 as a regional innovation center and business incubator. Since then, GLIDE has been responsible for the creation of an estimated 750 to 1,000 new jobs.
“We constantly try to innovate,” Church says. “We live in a world where if you’re not innovating you’re moving backward because the world is changing so dramatically.”
That’s the motivation, too, behind the new Smart Commercialization Center for Microsystems slated to open on campus this spring. The 46,270-square-foot facility is dedicated to sensor technology and intended to bridge the gap between research on the collegiate level and commercialization in the marketplace.
“What we are developing is a center that helps companies package sensors into new products,” Church says. “That will create a one-of-a-kind resource for Lorain County, Northeast Ohio, Ohio and the Midwest and ought to bring a significant number of companies and job opportunities to our region.”
The potential is huge. “Sensors today are pervasive in virtually every new technology application,” Church says. “In many ways, the embedding of sensors in all kinds of products is as invasive as the Internet was 15 years ago.”
LCCC is innovating when it comes to the student experience, too.
The college recently received a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant to fund Completion by Design, an initiative intended to increase graduation rates. Currently, 72 percent of all LCCC students either get a degree or are still enrolled after six years. That means that 28 percent of students are struggling. The goal is to increase the student graduation rate by 40 to 60 percent.
“The actual degree is so sought-after in the employment process,” Church says. “We want to make sure that the students get that.”
Claudia Lubaski is an associate professor of accounting who is also on LCCC’s Completion Core Team. “The entire campus community will be engaged in student success efforts, which will make maneuvering through the process of earning their degree less complicated,” she says. “Efforts saved can then be spent more productively on their educational endeavor.”
Mark McKinley has been at LCCC since 1966 and now serves as a professor emeritus in the department of psychology. He notes that “in the days of yore” the typical student attended college to get an education. Today, he says, they “come to prepare for a job.”
The learning environment has changed as much as the student body. “With the Internet,” McKinley says, “I have had students enrolled in my online classes who were living in the United Kingdom, Trinidad, California, France, Australia and Japan.”
Church points to statistics to show how far Lorain County has come over the last decade: There has been a 31 percent increase in associate degrees, a 25 percent increase in bachelor’s degrees and a 41 percent increase in graduate degrees. Lorain County has had the second-highest growth rate of college degrees in Northeast Ohio.
And an educated population leads to a thriving community. “One of the things we know,” Church says, “is that for every percentage increase in college degrees in an environment, you can expect to have a major increase in per capita income.
“Clearly,” he concludes, “we’re making progress.”
A host of passionate, interesting and dedicated students fill the classrooms at Lorain County Community College. They are diverse, and they are practical. Each of the students we spoke with had a goal and a plan to achieve it.
Vyctorya Robinson, 18
Her goal: To be an interior designer
Why: “I’ve always been artistic.” And interior design seems like a much more marketable
degree than, say,
Her plan: To attend Kent State University after two years through LCCC’s University Partnership program
On LCCC: “They don’t play around here.”
His dream: To
be an actor
His plan: To transfer to New York Film Academy in May
Then why study business? “Safety plan.”
April Plas, 24
When she graduates: This May, with a degree of applied science in physical therapy
On her time at LCCC: “Great. The professors make all the difference.”
Scholarship received: Presidential, which offers 10 free credit hours a semester to any Lorain County resident who achieves a high school GPA between 3.4 and 3.699. Those who achieve a minimum GPA of 3.7 earn totally free tuition.
Her plan: Dental care
Mazen Kirby, 20
Free!: After factoring in his scholarships and loans, Kirby found himself in an unexpected financial position. “I got a check for $960,” he says.
His plan: He’s studying business
marketing and will attend Kent State University after two years through LCCC’s University Partnership program.
On LCCC’s campus: “It’s growing. Every time I come here, I see a new building.”
Lives in Avon, originally from the Bronx
He’s studying: Construction engineering
His plan: To graduate after two years, find a union and get a job
The idea: “To get school out of the way real quick and make money.”
She’s studying: Physical therapy
Her plan: To transfer to Youngstown State University through LCCC’s University Partnership program
Baldwin-Wallace, but even with the partial scholarship she would have received there,
it was too expensive
Her motto: “No
Jacob Feniello, 18
He’s studying: Accounting
His plan: To enroll at Cleveland State
University in fall of 2013
His dream: To earn his CPA and become an accountant for a big corporation.
On LCCC: “It’s a pretty good school and it was the best financial situation.”
LCCC by the Numbers
1947 The year the Truman Commission calls for the establishment of community-based colleges to meet the needs of GIs who left an agricultural economy and returned home — unprepared — to an industrial economy
3 The number of farms purchased to assemble the land for LCCC
6,600 The number of students LCCC was built to accommodate
17,000 The current enrollment at LCCC
1980 The year the Stocker Center for the Performing Arts opened
3.7 The GPA a Lorain County resident must have achieved in high school to be eligible for free tuition at LCCC
1987 The year Dr. Roy Church became president of LCCC
25 The percentage of Lorain County high school students who attend LCCC after graduation
60,000 The average amount of tuition money in dollars a student is able to save by attaining a four-year degree through a LCCC University Partnership.
31 The percentage increase in associate degrees in Lorain County over the last decade
25 The percentage increase in bachelor degrees in Lorain County over the last decade
41 The percentage increase in graduate degrees in Lorain County over the last decade
1-7-2013 The date LCCC’s new North Ridgeville campus opens
110 The cost in dollars of one credit hour at LCCC for county residents
454 The cost in dollars of one credit hour at The Ohio State University