Message from Dr. Belinda S. Miles: The Urgency of Now! Reversing the Trend
October 29, 2021
Higher education is facing what could be considered a perfect storm. Data from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education in December 2020 indicated that the number of US high school graduates will peak with the Class of 2025 and decline thereafter. The pandemic worsens this projection as some high school students have vanished and not yet returned. Community college enrollments continue to decline with the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center projecting a more than 14 percent drop over the past two years. Additionally, and attributed in part to the pandemic, people are not choosing to attend college and are entering the workforce without that credential. In the face of serious enrollment challenges and at all times, it is vital for Westchester Community College to attract and retain students by offering meaningful and relevant programs and curriculum.
Educational pathways aligned with career opportunities help us attract and maintain students. On Monday, Vice President Wisell and I joined colleagues from Houston Community College at the PepsiCo Foundation Community College program, “Educate, Act, Impact” to share information on PepsiCo’s significant investment in scholarships at WCC and HCC that advance access to education and viable career pathways. Lionsgate Studios, recently established in Yonkers, expressed interest in working with our film program faculty and students to grow talent at their studios. In a video on leadership by the Westchester County Association, I discussed our commitment to workforce development and our role in preparing knowledgeable individuals needed for the workforce of today and the future. Additionally, a pending opportunity to collaborate on research with the Block Center for Technology and Society at Carnegie Mellon University would help us contribute to bridging the growing gap in supply and demand for emerging tech jobs. These types of connections lead to students’ economic mobility and reveal the important role community colleges have in creating opportunity and advancement within the workforce.
Many students choose Westchester Community College to engage in programs that provide significant civic engagement. Representing Westchester Community College this week at the inauguration of Dr. Milagros Peña as sixth president of Purchase College, their first female and SUNY’s first Latinx president, I learned of their inspiring theme, The Sustainable Future: People, Place, and Purpose, which referenced the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. We join our colleagues at Purchase College in our commitment to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion, lifelong learning opportunities, and access to high-quality and inclusive education. Many of the UN goals are embedded in our curriculum, mission, and strategic plan. Other civic engagement activities include our participation in the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE). Our 2020 campus report indicates that while WCC’s student voter participation rates are below the national average, our student voting rate increased in 2020. The NSLVE report is here. This article from the Boston Globe provides additional information on the study.
Our upcoming Enrollment Management Summit will provide space for us to marshal our resources, systems, and structures to help ensure that we keep the door of access to opportunity open in order to prepare students as employees and engaged citizens. According to the World Economic Forum “strong innovation capacity will be very difficult to achieve without a healthy, well-educated, and trained workforce.” The Summit will help us examine our temerity and discipline to respond to the urgency of now — for students and the broader community, to reverse declining enrollment, and to sustain a brighter future for the college.
Dr. Belinda S. Miles