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Community colleges will play a key role in post-COVID economic recovery, HCC presidential finalists say

Community colleges, including Harford Community College, will fill a crucial role in helping the nation’s economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, serving as education and training centers that can prepare students for the jobs employers need to be filled, both in the short and long term.

Two of the four finalists to be the next president of HCC — Annette Haggray and David Hinds — touched on the role the local college will play in a post-pandemic economic recovery during recent forums with the community.

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Haggray is a former HCC official, having served as vice president for academic affairs for seven years before joining Northern Virginia Community College in 2016. She is the current provost of NOVA’s Alexandria campus. Haggray participated in forums with Harford students, employees and the community on Oct. 6.

Hinds retired earlier this year after serving for five years as president of Victoria College, a community college in Victoria, Texas. He spent three years, before his college presidency, as senior vice president of instructional affairs with Allegany College of Maryland in Western Maryland. Hinds spent Oct. 9 with HCC students, employees and the Harford community.

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The forums happened with both an in-person and online audience, as they were livestreamed and recorded. All six forums with Haggray and Hinds, as well as those with finalists Kelly Koermer and Theresa Felder that happened Sept. 29 and Oct. 2, respectively, are available via the “playlists” section of the HCC Events channel on YouTube.

“One of the things that I feel COVID has taught us is that we have to challenge our assumptions about what we know and think and should do” in higher education, Haggray said during her community forum.

“It’s changed the way we deliver instruction, the way we support students, the way we communicate with each other, now mostly through technology,” she added.

Haggray talked about how, in her current role with Northern Virginia Community College and prior role at HCC, she interacts with “stakeholders from a variety of sectors” in the community, which she believes is “critical work for community colleges, for obvious reasons.”

Community colleges serve dual roles in providing for students “the very best quality education and support, so that they can complete their career goals, their academic goals, their life goals,” as well as providing for the greater community “the benefits of those educational pursuits” with graduates who can contribute to their local workforce and community life, according to Haggray.

“During this period, we have lots of folks who are unemployed, and it is critical that we are able to provide short-term programs that allow students to come in, gain skills and quickly go to work,” she said.

Haggray said college officials should prioritize “the education and training needs that we need to focus on now and then into the future,” as well as “that long-term plan for workforce development and training and support for the community — what does that look like?”

Hinds noted how “higher education is the pathway to greater prosperity” for the individual and greater community, “because the community is, in reality, nothing but the amalgamation of all of its citizens.”

The return on investment in each person’s education can be very difficult for college administrators to calculate, because of multiple factors.

“Ultimately, we know just very simply that that investment pays off over a lifetime,” Hinds said, citing data showing how a person’s earnings increase depending on their level of education.

Hinds showed data from 2016 indicating how people with different levels of education, including a bachelor’s degree, associate’s degree, “some college” or a high school diploma fared following the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009. People with associate’s degrees or some college suffered job losses at first, but recovered “much more quickly” than people who only had a high school diploma or did not complete high school.

“We’ve moved from an economy, from 1973 to 2020, where 72% of jobs could be had by a high school (graduate) or someone without a high school degree, to an economy where only one in three jobs can be had with that level of education,” said Hinds.

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He described how “the economy is asking for 70% of our students to go on and get some college or training beyond high school, and we’re not there and we’re not close.”

“We have some employers clamoring for certain types of skill levels and education levels, and the higher ed system has not been able to keep up, not been able to provide what the economy is clamoring for, for lack of a better term,” Hinds added.

He presented data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics showing how the U.S. unemployment level has changed during the pandemic. The data, which covers the period between September 2018 and September 2020, shows unemployment staying steady below 4% during much of the two-year stretch, then spiking above 14% during the pandemic, and dropping back to 8% and beginning to flatten as of last month.

“What that tells me is, there’s a good chance that this recession is going to take a while to get over,” Hinds said, predicting that the U.S. could see unemployment of 8% to 10% “for a while.”

The “imperative of the community college” is to provide opportunities for students, whether they are seeking credits toward a degree or non-credit job training, according to Hinds. He stressed a focus on non-credit courses, noting how one in four hours spent in a classroom at HCC is dedicated to continuing education.

“Non-credit is traditionally more responsive to employers in the short term,” Hinds said. “We really need to pay attention to what are the skills, what’s the knowledge, what’s the education level needed for entry-level jobs?”

Community college officials plan to have a new president in place by January for the start of the spring 2021 semester.

Jacqueline Jackson, who has served as interim president since former President Dianna Phillips resigned in February, did not apply to be president and has said she plans to go back to her prior position as vice president of student affairs and institutional effectiveness, and Title IX coordinator, once a new president is on board.

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