What ‘back to school’ means at Lakes Region Community College

What ‘back to school’ means at Lakes Region Community College

What ‘back to school’ means at Lakes Region Community College

By: Larissa Baia, Lakes Region Community College president

Last weekend, students moved into campus housing at Lakes Region Community College, marking the end of the summer for them and a new chapter for me, as I experience my first academic year as president of LRCC. While I and other administrators helped students carry heavy boxes and other belongings into their new campus apartments, I thought about how all of our students – no matter where they live or what courses they’re taking – have a lot on their shoulders.

The idea of going “back to school” is a little different at LRCC, because many of our students never really stopped. Forty percent of LRCC students are 25 or older; also known as adult, “non-traditional,” learners, which often means they are striving to enhance their professional skills through classes on campus, online, or through training partnerships on site at their workplace. This year, we saw our Spring to Fall retention (students re-enrolling from one semester to the next) increase by 13 percent, a metric that demonstrates student success more effectively than GPA, because it means students are sticking with it, even when it gets tough.

Pursuing higher education is not easy. Students come to LRCC with many existing priorities and obstacles, like financial challenges, family responsibilities, and full-time jobs. Knowing that 13 percent more students are continuing their studies than last year means we at LRCC need to keep removing the barriers that make going “back to school” so challenging. It also means continuing and broadening the programs that make meaningful differences in the lives of every student. Things like:

·         Building partnerships with area companies to help their current employees learn the skills they need now and will need in the future;

·         Streamlining how students enter and progress through their unique academic journey; and

·         Creating new programs that emphasize the specific skills needed within our local and state economies – and offering them in shorter segments where students can earn “micro credentials” and industry certifications that emphasize skill mastery rather than a traditional degree.

In New Hampshire, the unemployment rate is consistently among the lowest in the nation. This is good news for job seekers, because it indicates that New Hampshire is a great place to build a career and that we have many good-paying jobs for those with the right skills. As a community college, it’s our responsibility to understand what those skills are and help students acquire them.

That’s why we regularly partner with private employers – from advanced manufacturing companies like EPTAM Plastics and Freudenberg Sealing Technologies in Northfield, to hospitals like Lakes Region Healthcare, to upskill employees. The unique skills needed by our industry partners, such as specific computer programs, math concepts for manufacturing, phlebotomy and assisting physicians in patient examinations, are crucial, but don’t always come packaged in an associate or bachelor’s degree. Companies are creating on-site training programs tailored specifically to the skills their employees need to advance within the company and to advance their careers.

Regardless of whether a student is full-time, lives on campus, commutes to school, is taking advantage of a workplace training program or is in high school enrolled in a dual enrollment program, our goal is for every student to succeed. At LRCC we focus on helping students fit education into their busy lives. LRCC advisors help students manage deadlines, register for the right courses, and plan their schedules, so all students need to do is take the step and walk through the door to orientation.

I look forward to seeing all of the students as they return to or begin classes this semester. I’m equally as excited to meet the students who are finding ways to fit education and professional development into their already-full work and family schedules. LRCC’s faculty, staff and I are here to provide all the support every student needs to be successful - including helping them carry their clothes or groceries to their new student apartment.

Larissa Baía is the president of Lakes Region Community College, a fully accredited, comprehensive community college in the Lakes Region that serves over 1,200 students annually.