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Toolkit: Op-Eds

Regional Success Depends on Access to Higher Education
Randall R. Miller
President, Lake Michigan College
South Bend Tribune
January 29, 2023

The symbolism of Lake Michigan College's wave, as a force of energy that is always changing, has never been more appropriate as we embark on 2008. The achievements, as well as the disappointments, of the past year shape a future that promises new directions and continued challenges for the college and for the region we serve.

Lake Michigan College is outstanding at its core, dedicated to the ideals of academic quality and service to our communities. Our successes reflect these ideals. From the achievements of our students to the advancement of our academic programs, it is important to review the highlights of the past year that set the stage for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

The progress of academic quality and success continues. Our Nursing Education Center is delivering on its promise to increase the number of nursing graduates who serve our region's health care needs. In May, a record 69 registered nursing students graduated from the program. And, the quality of their education is being proven: 95.6 percent of those graduates passed their state licensing exam, compared to a statewide average of 83.5 percent.

Expansion of our radiologic technology program is one of our goals for 2008. We are proud to report that 100 percent of the students in the class of 2007 passed their licensing exam -- a testament to our high-quality instructors who make the difference.

Modernizing our science program took an important step when we received a $1.9 million Title III grant from the U.S. Department of Education to upgrade our science curriculum. But it is just the first step in a much larger effort to advance our science programs as we seek additional funds to make much needed updates to our facilities, teaching equipment and curriculum.

Our partnerships and community connections are strengthening our region. Through our strong partnerships with area K-12 schools and the intermediate school districts, we posted record fall semester enrollment in our early college program. More area high school students than ever before are getting an important jump start on college, with more than 700 area high school students taking college classes.

Our collaborative effort with Western Michigan University expanded this year with the signing of the bachelor of science in engineering (manufacturing) degree agreement. The program is serving the needs of regional manufacturers and students with a blend of locally offered traditional courses and online courses taught by WMU professors who utilize our facilities to complete the hands-on lab work.

Our connection with Michigan Works is helping to train more area residents for in-demand health care jobs. A portion of a grant provided to Michigan Works by the U.S. Department of Labor has allowed us to provide emergency medical technician, paramedic and nursing training to an additional 60 students last year.

LMC students are routinely in the spotlight. The greatest satisfaction in what we do as a college comes from the success of our students. This year our students demonstrated excellence in their fields of study at some of the highest levels.

We received a report from Western Michigan University showing that, on average, LMC students who transfer to WMU academically outperform students who began there as freshmen. The study also indicated that LMC students outperform transfer students from other community colleges.

Individually, our students have won national honors for skilled trades excellence, for undergraduate research, and at the 2007 Psychology Synergy Conference where one of our students competed and won first-place honors against students from the University of Southern California and Stephen F. Austin University in psychology research.

Nine of our student athletes took their game to the next level by transferring to four-year colleges or universities to continue their athletic careers. Of the nine, eight athletes received scholarships from their new schools.

Challenges and opportunities await us. Certainly, our millage defeat, more than $5 million in state aid cuts and a struggling state economy hinder our capacity to deliver programs and services that residents of our region need. As we said during the millage campaign, without additional dollars from a millage, we will have to become a leaner institution in order to maintain quality and relevancy.

Consistent with that message, we recently enacted $400,000 in cost-saving measures, with the money being redirected to other vital uses at the college. This, along with our decision to seek a buyer for our M-TEC facility, will help drive the college toward being more effective and fiscally efficient. This process will require more self-examination and changes so the college can meet the training needs for the jobs of tomorrow.

However, cuts alone will not solve the issue. We cannot cut our way to prosperity.

We will continue to seek new resources to take training to new levels. We must do this because this region's economic future depends on an educated work force that is prepared for the job opportunities of today, as well as those on the horizon: in the sciences, health care, technology and advanced manufacturing.

We live in a society that rewards the well-educated with opportunity, hope for advancement and better lives. Those who lack education and skills are either left behind or frustrated with the lack of hope for the future.

It is Lake Michigan College's role to address the educational needs of this region. But, it is important to realize that the college is not just its faculty, staff and board of trustees. Lake Michigan College is each and every one of us who lives within the college's district. Together, we can set the educational bar high and work toward reaching new levels of regional and personal prosperity by committing the right resources to our future.

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