Miles Community College: A Force in Economic Development
What an exciting time to be in Miles City and be a part of Miles Community College! So far, the community has been kind and friendly. I have been pleased with the positive attitude about Miles Community College.
As we all know, the economic landscape is changing rapidly, with changes emerging almost daily, particularly in the technical fields. Community colleges have the unique opportunity to provide educational opportunities for a variety of learners in a multitude of settings. Therein lies the challenge: How do community colleges serve the changing needs of the communities they serve?
The answer seems simplistic for Miles Community College. Like many other community colleges, Miles Community College focuses on four areas: 1) Academic programming, which includes professional-technical training; 2) economic development workforce training; 3) lifelong learning through continuing education; and 4) economic development.
Academic programming–At the heart of any community college lie credit courses for students wishing to earn an associate degree. Miles Community College provides these certificate and degree programs for a variety of purposes. One is to provide opportunities for students to transfer to four-year programs. Another is providing sufficient training so students can immediately enter the workplace upon graduation. That is the sole purpose of professional-technical education (vocational education). Community colleges work with the employers in the area to determine what is needed for their workplace. Then, the community colleges develop programming that adheres to those needs. Each professional-technical program has an advisory committee composed of area business people in that field of study. They help determine what the curriculum ought to be in order to accommodate the needs of their changing workplace.
Workforce training– I suspect the fact that we are a new knowledge-based economy is not a shocker to anyone, especially if you get up in the mornings and peek out the window, read any newspaper or magazine, or have access to any type of technology.
According to the most recent statistics, knowledge doubles every 18 months. The increase in knowledge has distinctly changed the workplace and the definition of what skills workers need or will need. Keeping up with and managing this new knowledge will be our challenge, and to some, their nemesis. Knowledge acquisition and application, then, become not only a priority but also an imperative to stay current and constant amid change.
One of the most important roles Miles Community College has is to provide workforce or customized training to help people and business and industry “stay current and constant amid change” in the marketplace.
Thus, community colleges play an important and vital role of aiding business and industry to access training and retraining. From developing specific, long-term training for a particular company to providing just-in-time training for a group of employees to quickly learn a new software program, community colleges have become the provider of workforce training.
One example of workforce development happened when I worked at Eastern Idaho Technical College. The fourth largest potato dry packing plant in the world called and requested Spanish language training for their supervisors. Over 1/3 of their workforce was a Spanish-speaking population. When I asked when they would like this program to start, the manager said, “How about next week?”
Being nimble, responsive, and accommodating—all components of a good community or technical college—we found a qualified instructor, toured the plant, met with the supervisors and employees to determine the appropriate curriculum specific to their needs, developed a budget, and began the class within a week. They were so pleased with the training that they purchased a 30-hour segment.
When employees receive training necessary to help them in their jobs, they become more effective employees. In the long run, this translates into having a more productive workplace.
Lifelong Learning through Continuing Education—Most people are naturally lifelong learners. Again, Miles Community College is a vigorous promoter of lifelong learning through continuing education. Think of the areas you have chosen to learn in: gardening, golfing, computers, genealogy, Dutch oven cooking, cake decorating, flower arranging, art, drawing, photographing, gold panning, fly tying, scrapbooking, creative writing, poetry, home decorating, building, wood working—and these represent just a small part of lifelong learning activities.
Providing lifelong learning courses through continuing education is what Miles Community College does and will continue to do.
Economic development—For years, community colleges have played an important role in the economic development in their communities. In the past few years, however, we have seen a surge in community colleges actually assuming leadership roles in economic development within their communities. Why? Because community colleges are nimble, progressive, and flexible; and they understand the integral role they should play in economic development.
A goal for Miles Community College is to enhance its role as a leader in the economic development of our region. Miles Community College participates in economic development in a variety of ways.
One way is through job creation within a community. As we develop workforce training or continuing education, we create jobs by developing programs and then hiring instructors to teach those programs. Additionally, Miles Community College sponsors or facilitates several conference and workshop events every year. People from out of town come and spend a day or two or even three or four. Their dollars boost the economy.
Moreover, when new business and industry groups research a particular community to expand in, one of the first entities they visit is the higher education institution in that community.
For example, when a call center company began its research to expand to Lewiston, they made sure to come visit us at Lewis-Clark State College. Some of the questions they asked included: Are you able to train workers for the specific communication we need? What types of programming do you currently offer that we need in our company? What are you able to develop? What about ongoing training? New businesses needed trained workers. Community colleges are in unique positions to be able to provide customized training.
Another aspect of economic development that community colleges provide is itself. What some people fail to see is that we are a “quasi-business” and bring “customers” to town. When customers/ students enroll at Miles Community College, they represent revenue to the community. We tell our student they will need approximately $8,200 to support themselves for one year.
Now, if you figure 480 full-time students who enroll at Miles Community College, they invest in the economy of Miles City around $3.9 million. The economic gurus say that each dollar spent in a community circulates about seven times. Thus, $3.9 million turns into $27.5 million. Plus, Miles Community College has a $2.7 million budget that circulates throughout the community via faculty and staff. They buy homes, groceries, cars, stereos, and other items. And they pay taxes.
With students also come athletic programs, which also help contribute to the economic health of Miles City. Miles Community College sports several men’s and women’s teams with players from Montana and as far away as Trinidad and Mozambique. Games or events bring people to Miles City to watch our athletes perform. Often these people stay the night in our hotels and purchase food, groceries, gas, or other items at our local businesses. Additionally, each year, Miles Community College sponsors several boys and girls sports camps. These young people come for several days at a time, and they seem to have money to spend in our community.
An additional economic development piece hinges on adult basic education (ABE). ABE provides educational activities for adult students who either have not graduated from high school or students who are underprepared or unprepared to enroll in a postsecondary program or obtain a job. During my doctoral program, I participated in research that looked at adult students returning to school. The research showed that as adults upgraded their skills, earned a GED, or obtained a certificate or degree, they obtained better jobs, felt better about themselves, and contributed more to society. Additionally, when parents are better educated, especially mothers, their children do better in school.
Overall, a positive relationship exists between education attainment and productivity growth. Just three years ago, the June 1998 issue of Workforce Economic Trends, produced by the National Alliance of Business, posited that “most studies...have concluded that the earnings differential between those with more education and those with less education reflects the fact that education raises productivity....” Simply put, less than two years ago, 60.2% of high school dropouts, 77.9% of high school graduates, 83.7% of workers with less than a BA, and 87.8% of college graduates participated in the labor force.
The Workforce Economic Trends also states that “a 10% increase in the average education level of a company’s workforce (approximately one year of additional education) increases productivity by 8.6% in the manufacturing sector and by 12.9% in the non-manufacturing sector” (June 1998).
Community colleges have begun to play a vital role in promoting the educational health of their communities they serve. When President Clinton was once on the campaign trail, he said: “To me, the community college is the institution in America which most clearly reflects how we ought to be organized, how we ought to work together, and what we ought to be trying to do as we move America into the 21st century. This country would work better if it worked like a giant community college.”
And that is what Miles Community College is—an institution that seeks to aid its communities and stakeholders in developing programming that meets their needs. It is imperative that communities take note of the importance of their community college. This can only happen when community members become involved in the college and what it can do for them.
Bottom line is this: Investments in education, formal or informal, have value-added benefits. Not only do educated and trained employees participate more in the labor force, they also bring added value to our companies and our communities because these employees are “less likely to receive public assistance, are generally healthier, are more likely to vote and participate in civic affairs, and are less likely to be involved in criminal activity.” Investing in education, especially at the community college level, just makes good sense.
Miles Community College is the communities’ college and has for its goal to stretch and develop additional programming for you. If you have needs, either personal or professional, or you want your employees to receive upgrade or enhanced training, call us. We would be more than willing to come visit you or even take you on a tour of the campus. We are here to serve you.