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As a traditional immigration entry point, New Jersey has long been home to a broad array of nationalities. A century and a half ago, the mix was largely European. Today, the spectrum is far broader and more diverse, reflecting migration from Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America and Africa. Each group adds its own unique qualities to the broad mosaic, enriching the community and strengthening our state and our country.
Realizing the importance of higher education in the workplace, many immigrants and their children reach out to the state’s community colleges to prepare for the future.
As a member of the New Jersey Higher Education Commission, I’ve seen that these two-year institutions satisfy the needs of non-traditional students who may not have the luxury of time or financial resources to dedicate to a four-year college education.
In creating an environment of growth and respect for our diverse population, community colleges provide New Jersey with capable workers who capitalize on their unique perspectives as marketable skills. Cultural differences are valued as resources to be mined in making our workforce more competitive in the global marketplace.
The students’ perspectives are broadly different, based on the unique situations they face in their day-to-day lives.
Some are continuing their education directly from high school, and other are returning after several years in what many call “the real world.” They come from many countries and many cultures.
As they go to classes, many community college students have to support themselves and their families. At times economic realities force them to interrupt their studies.
Regardless of the situation, by the time these students graduate from community college, they’ve already had experiences that most college students of 30 or 40 years ago would never have imagined having before they completed 60 credits of undergraduate work.
Despite the obstacles - or maybe because of them - these students show remarkable tenacity in striving to complete their degree work, whether it takes two years or several more.
In a time when many major corporations are struggling to build atmospheres of mutual respect in their own diverse workforces, community colleges are making it work.
In preparing non-traditional students for success, our community colleges understand the rhythms of their lives, rather than forcing the student into a traditional academic schedule that conflicts with the realities of life. They offer curricular scheduled to meet students’ needs and time constraints, at a reasonable cost.
Given the mission of preparing a multifaceted student body for a demanding world, New Jersey’s community colleges are motivating hardworking individuals who overcome a host of challenges to get an education.
Community colleges don’t merely tolerate their students’ differences; they make them distinct advantages. The faculty and administration recognize that when harnessed, diversity is a powerful resource. They teach their students the best ways to contribute their diverse perspectives to whatever they choose to take on in the future The students are responding in kind by excelling in their chosen careers.
If New Jersey is to continue to capitalize on the strengths of its people in an increasingly more global culture, our community colleges must have the resources to satisfy the needs of the students, the rhythms of our neighborhoods and the demands of the workplace.
They must continue to mine the talents and resources of our immigrant population and other non-traditional students.
Community colleges recognize the gifts their students can contribute to society and give them the tools they need to succeed and thrive. And in return, they give the larger world the gift of their graduates’ insight, tenacity and leadership skills.
Each of us can look back in our lives to find someone who benefited from the support of someone who recognized a unique spark in them and provided the broad shoulders or the guiding hand to help along the way. Our community colleges play that role for so many New Jerseyans, and we must ensure that they continue to have the resources to provide that stepping stone to our immigrant and non-traditional students.
Knowledge comes from many sources: the people we live and work with as much as from formal education. Community colleges offer both to their students.
Their community college education is the launching point for a continuing quest to grow, and an appreciation for the diverse skills and talents of their fellow New Jerseyans. That’s a resource we can’t afford to squander.
Alfred C. Koeppe
Senior Vice President
PSE&G Corporate Services and External Affairs
and Member of the New Jersey Higher Education Commission
The Jersey Journal; Wednesday, July 30, 1997