David Harrison gets the “community” in community college. President of Columbus State Community College since 2010, Dr. Harrison has spent the last few years driving the number of students earning valuable degrees, prepping workers for the workforce, and closing the skills gap. CSCC has been doing so well, in fact, that the school was recently featured in an in-depth profile in The Atlantic, which discussed how Harrison has not only helped pull the central Ohio region out of its post-recession blues, but has also forged CSCC into a stalwart leader among community colleges who want to do the same for their regions.
Thanks to an aggressive, disciplined staff and easy collaboration with enthusiastic business leaders, Harrison has nailed these achievements by understanding the ideal relationship between a community college and its community. Colleges can’t educate in a vacuum; when students graduate, they’ll probably find the vacuum empty of jobs that relate to their degrees—and businesses will find it empty of the talent they need. Instead, community colleges ought to keep a finger on the community’s pulse, and respond accordingly. What skills do employers need? What degrees will lead graduates to compelling careers? “What we’ve been able to do the last couple of years is connect the college to the community—and vice versa—in really deep ways,” Harrison said, “so that while we’re trying to advance the college, we’re also trying to address the most pressing needs of the region.”
Targeting this issue specifically—developing programs and skills that meet regional business needs—led down a long road to what is doubtless Harrison’s magnum opus: Central Ohio Compact. Since 2012, CSCC’s regional strategy has rallied numerous Central Ohio school districts and seven higher education institutions to join in striving for Lumina Foundation’s nationwide goal: By 2025, 60% of the nation’s adults will have a postsecondary degree or certification under their belt.
Assisted by a number of exciting program partnerships with the likes of JPMorgan Chase (with whom EMSI has worked on skills-gap analysis for the training initiative New Skills at Work), CSCC has walked point on the first steps to reaching that 60% objective: increasing dual-enrollment programs; providing training to low-income, unemployed, and underemployed adults; aligning programs with workforce demands; and helping adults with some college but no degree.
The community college has also taken a leadership role in fortifying career pathways between high schools, community colleges, and employers, an emphasis which ties in nicely with EMSI’s historic work through Career Coach (targeting community colleges) and our brand new initiative Find Your Calling (calibrated especially for high school students and their parents).
Harrison has such an augmented vision for his college that he is now working alongside Nationwide Children’s Hospital (NCH) in Columbus. Besides being an employment partner in the hospital’s Healthy Neighborhoods, Healthy Families program (one of whose goals is to combat the neighborhood’s low employment by employing more workers from the immediate community), CSCC has also become involved in FastPath, NCH’s program helping the un- or underemployed who need a leg up onto the right career path.
While these (and other) initiatives might seem fairly distinct, Harrison commented that in an important way, they are all the same work. “We’re trying to make sure there’s a collective impact that is greater and longer-lasting than any particular time period or any individual project,” he said.
It’s encouraging for us to watch CSCC cast such a long shadow by completely owning—and in some places expanding—its mission as a community college. “It’s not a responsibility we back away from; it’s a responsibility we embrace,” Harrison said. “These aren’t side programs, but are the core of what a great community college does. And building a relationship with the community is central to what a great community college should be doing.” Agreed.