Rooted in the Community
She fell in love with LCCC’s commitment to the community: its role as a game-changer in the county for growing economic development, introducing culture to residents and engaging people from all walks of life to learn and grow.
Today, as president of LCCC, Dr. Ballinger says, “I believe that you can’t help to lead a community you don’t love, and you can’t love a community you don’t know.”
Indeed, Dr. Ballinger is leading in her element today. After 25 years of working up the ranks at LCCC, she also earned a master’s degree in business from the University Partnership program through Kent State University and a Ph.D. in Higher Education Community College Leadership, all while raising two daughters and making a home in Lorain County.
She is the first woman president of Ohio’s first community college.
“Every student’s dream matters,” she says simply. Dr. Ballinger herself was in the position to dream and do at LCCC, growing from media relations into helping create a “project” in 1995 that includes a series of community summits to talk about developing collaborative degrees with universities. That became the University Partnership and is how Dr. Ballinger earned her MBA.
Dr. Ballinger’s growth in the LCCC “community” has mirrored the college’s own development as an institution recognized for its commitment to the people of Lorain County.
For the past decade, Dr. Ballinger has worked alongside past-president Dr. Roy Church, in 2002 taking the position of vice president for strategic and institutional development and vice president of LCCC’s foundation. “I had an opportunity to look at ways we accelerate job development and growth in partnership with our local economic development and governmental partners,” she says.
Five years ago, Dr. Ballinger took the Provost role during the formative time in the national agenda in terms of improving student access to and completion of college degrees and credentials.
Dr. Ballinger’s roots and the way LCCC has nurtured a fulfilling and exciting career path demonstrate how the college provides those opportunities to students and the region, linking talent and opportunity.
“We are everyone’s community college,” she says enthusiastically.
The Community's College
Dr. Ballinger says, as president, she feels a deep responsibility to raise awareness of the challenges the community faces and to identify “hopeful solutions through higher education and our partnerships.”
“Research has shown that access to education can be a powerful factor in making a meaningful impact on those who are under-resourced,” she says. “I take to heart the ‘community’ in Lorain County Community College. After all, it’s our middle name.”
LCCC was chartered in 1963 by visionary residents who “put a stake in the ground and said, ‘It’s absolutely critical for this community to invest in the creation of this college,’” Dr. Ballinger relates. Education opens pathways to economic improvement. College degrees give people access to better jobs, and an improved quality of life. Community colleges can meet students where they are, and help guide them to where they can succeed in life and make a positive impact on their communities.
“Returning to our roots, and understanding our roots, is extremely important to the future growth of LCCC, because it was designed and created to reflect the unique needs of the community and to ensure that residents have local, accessible opportunities for higher education,” Dr. Ballinger says. “We must truly help to enhance economic mobility so we can empower a thriving community.”
In the trenches, this translates to creating jobs and niche markets for Lorain County. It means asking the questions: How do we grow talent? What degrees do students need for the jobs of tomorrow?
“Growing jobs has been a space in the last decade that we have committed to deeply, and that has helped shape niche markets in this region,” Dr. Ballinger says, pointing to sensors and micro electro-mechanical systems (MEMS). She helped to spearhead the development of the Great Lakes Innovation and Development Enterprise (GLIDE). “The community has transformed into a hotbed of innovation and talent, and business startups,” Dr. Ballinger says of initiatives that have grown out of GLIDE over the last 10 years.
LCCC was the first community college in the United States to create a “fab lab,” the only one similar to it existing at MIT. In fact, MIT worked with LCCC to develop the lab. Today, the college is expanding its maker space. “Whether it’s mobile apps or design fabrication, we are culminating [learning opportunities] that reflect needs in the community and also help to inspire,” Dr. Ballinger says.
Leading talent development and accelerating job growth are key priorities of LCCC’s Vision 2020 Plan. Over the last 25 years, companies less than five years old have accounted for all new net job growth in the U.S., illustrating how innovation is critical to economic growth.
LCCC will expand its initiatives to support start-ups and existing businesses. Companies are moving to Lorain County to tap into the resources. For example, NanoBio Systems, in the GLIDE incubator and a Desich SMART Center client, moved from Boston to the college campus to grow its biomedical company here.
But beyond growing innovation and jobs, Dr. Ballinger is passionate about making sure that every person who wants to move forward in life gains access to a college degree. This goal falls in line with Vision 2020’s Priority 1: to drive student completion for academic career success.
“We need to move individuals who are in the bottom quartile of our economy toward more meaningful employment,” Dr. Ballinger says. “We have a high percentage of women in Lorain County who are female heads of households with children under 18 and who live in poverty.
“We have a social responsibility to break the cycle, and that really goes back to our values and mission to empower a thriving community,” she continues. “As the first female leader of this institution, I have a deep personal passion for this — really serving the community in ways that improve economic mobility.”
Creating Career Pathways
Providing opportunity comes in many forms at LCCC. It happens by reducing student debt burden, creating educational value and guiding those who started college degrees toward completion. It means removing barriers, such as not demanding developmental coursework before letting students into college classes so they can really get started on their futures.
“It’s rethinking some of those educational paradigms with regard to how we have delivered and designed some of our courses,” Dr. Ballinger says. “For example, now we blend together college-level courses with supports that might include embedding tutoring into a class so you can accelerate into a program rather than having to wait.”
Dr. Ballinger can speak first-hand about how wrap-around services in the classroom make student success possible.
When she went back to school to earn her MBA through LCCC’s University Partnership with Kent State University, she had to take a challenging statistics course. “I had been out of college for 15 years, so being able to have the resources here to help master that was so important,” she relates.
Dr. Ballinger talks about “intensive, intrusive advising” as a way to ensure that students at LCCC who start degrees finish them and continue on a career path. In the past, students could sign up for any courses with little advising. Today, structures are in place to provide more defined support, Dr. Ballinger says. “They don’t have to navigate [coursework planning] on their own, and as a result we have seen a tremendous increase in student completion of degrees and courses.”
Those systems are working. When the Northeast Ohio Council on Higher Education released its first study of the region’s higher education institutions in August 2016, LCCC had the highest six-year baccalaureate graduation rate for transfer students, at 63 percent. And, LCCC delivered nearly 30,000 college credits to high school students, saving families $4.5 million in college costs.
That speaks to LCCC’s My University program for high school students, giving them access to college courses so they can complete a bachelor’s degree by age 20 at 80 percent of the cost.
“There is no other program like it,” Dr. Ballinger comments. “LCCC provides the absolute greatest value in the state, and that’s a real feather in our cap and goes back to our roots.”
Developing Into the Future
Dr. Ballinger is Lorain County- and LCCC-proud. A North Ridgeville resident, she appreciates the region’s proximity to Lake Erie and access to Metroparks. “I am excited about all of the revitalization that is occurring in downtown Lorain,” she adds. “The city is coming to life with developments along the Black River and new investments occurring in downtown Elyria, as well.”
She believes that LCCC is in a unique position to propel such revitalization by fueling the talent pool and contributing to the county’s economic and cultural development.
“My passion is around higher education and what community colleges mean to our communities,” Dr. Ballinger says, adding that “the spirit of collaboration is alive and well in this community.”
Terry Goode, chairman of the Board of Trustees of Lorain County Community College, is confident that, under Dr. Ballinger’s leadership, the upward trajectory of LCCC will continue and strengthen.
“With Vision 2020 set and Dr. Ballinger’s leadership, experience and deep understanding and commitment to this college and community, I am excited to see what is possible,” says Goode.
“I am confident that Lorain County Community College will have an even deeper impact in providing education, economic, community and cultural development opportunities well into the future,” he says.