What this college president's "failure" taught him about student success

Jim Sawyer, the president of Macomb Community College (MCC), is a self-proclaimed failure, Ron Fournier writes for Crain’s Detroit Business.

At two different points in his career as a mechanical engineer, Sawyer took professional development courses at MCC, Fournier writes. But like many community college students, Sawyer "took a class... [then] disappeared," he explained to Fournier in an interview. According to traditional community college success metrics that measure the three-year graduation rate of first-time, full-time students, Sawyer says "I was a failure twice."

In reality, most community colleges support learners who work or parent or are re-enrollees, he says. Many community college students also enroll part-time, take longer than three years to graduate, or transfer to a four-year institution, as Kevin Carey noted in a recent article for the New York Times.

As Sawyer's own experience deviates from the traditional definition of success, he argues that higher ed leaders must reevaluate what community college success can look like.

Related: Eliminate persistence barriers with guaranteed course schedules

Colleges need to adjust their success metrics to capture the varied paths community college students take, Sawyer says. Success for a community college student may mean an associate degree, transfer to a four-year institution, or job placement, he adds.

Whatever his students' educational goals may be, Sawyer works to ensure that each one is prepared for the modern workplace and equipped with in-demand skills, he explains to Fournier.

As part of their workforce development efforts, MCC is carving out university and industry partnerships to help students forge a path towards a bachelor's degree or employment, Sawyer notes. And to help close the talent gap, the campus is focusing on connecting employers to the students in the college's occupational programs, he adds (Fournier, Crain’s Detroit Business, 12/4).

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