Community Colleges See Evolving Role

By: Tony Tagliavia Email
By: Tony Tagliavia Email

The ribbon-cutting at Jackson Community College's new William Atkinson Hall comes amid an evolution in the role of community colleges in Michigan.

The school, like others in the state, is experiencing a spike in student numbers. President Dan Phelan attributes at least part of that to tuition hikes at four-year schools.

"I came here for the affordable tuition," student Selena Hanks told us.

Phelan says he believes other factors are involved in the growth on campus as well, including the high-tech learning environment the new hall will provide.

But he says, "you certainly cannot understate the impact of the economic situation we're in right now."

Touring the new information and technology center, we also asked Phelan about the role the colleges are being asked to play in fixing that situation. Gov. Jennifer Granholm has put the colleges at the center of the effort to get laid-off employees back in the workforce.

And increasingly, colleges are focusing on training people for the jobs that are out there in the community.

One example: a partnership between JCC and Foote Hospital to train nurses.

"We work collaboratively to provide the kinds of instructional programs that they need in high-demand fields," Phelan said.

A bricks-and-mortar example of the changes going on at community colleges is JCC's new on-campus apartment building.

"Students are looking for a whole experience," he said. "They're not wanting to come for what was the traditional junior college, the commuter campus."

"I wanted a chance to get out of the home and have the freedom," Hanks told us.

It's a choice students now have at Jackson Community College -- something that could draw more in as tuition at four-year schools continues to rise.

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