Greetings District 502 Community
The following is a column I wrote for the Daily Herald that appeared in January 2024.
This past fall, enrollment was up at many of the nation’s community colleges, and College of DuPage was no exception.
The National Student Clearinghouse reported that enrollment grew 4.4% and accounted for nearly 60% of the increase in total undergraduates nationwide. COD saw a 5.8% increase in total headcount, which put us over 23,000 students.
Looking ahead in 2024, it is clear that a community college education remains both a critical component to workforce development and a building block toward bachelor’s and graduate degrees. A recent report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce predicts that by 2031, more than 72% of jobs will require either a postsecondary education and/or training.
What does that mean for higher education? As a community college, we must balance two needs—providing the necessary credentials to enter the workforce upon completion and preparing students for transfer through a relevant academic curriculum.
One challenge is convincing prospective students and their families about the positives of education when the unemployment rate is low and job growth remains steady. We must help them understand the long-term benefits of a post-secondary education, which can lead to career advancement and increased earning potential.
The technology revolution of the past 25 years has led to career creation and, as a result, new academic credential options. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the fastest-growing occupations projected during the next 10 years are a mix of new and traditional careers, including wind turbine service technicians and nurse practitioners, both with an impressive 45% growth rate; data scientists; statisticians; information security analysts; and medical and health services managers.
College of DuPage currently offers the curriculum that can prepare students for these careers: certificates in Renewable Energy Technology, Data Analytics and Cybersecurity Specialist; Associate in Applied Science degrees in Cybersecurity and Defense, Nursing, and Management; and transfer programs that include a 3+1 agreement with Concordia University for a Bachelor of Arts in Healthcare Management.
Community colleges have always been in the best position to respond quickly to changes in the career landscape because of our close relationships with business and industry leaders. This allows us to stay current as workforce needs shift and technology changes. We also provide transfer pathways through agreements with four-year institutions locally and around the nation. These can often lead to financial assistance through scholarships and grants.
Also, when it comes to transfer, starting on Jan. 1, a new law now requires all Illinois public colleges and universities to accept all major course credits approved for transfer from Illinois community colleges. This is a critical piece of legislation, assuring our students that their key credits will be accepted and they will not need to retake these courses.
COD is also launching a new campaign, Chaps Complete, that will help current students stay on track to finish their degrees or certificates. We want them to understand how a credential positively impacts their employment, future academic success and earning potential.
In looking towards the future, community colleges will play a key role in preparing the next generation for their careers by providing access to an affordable education. We provide a more personalized and customizable experience, from smaller class sizes to flexible scheduling. Students often can start off with specialized certificates that can be built upon if they decide to pursue additional credentials, including an associate degree, and we constantly are revising our curriculum and adding new ways for our students to get the education they need.
The future starts now and College of DuPage is ready to help you succeed.
Dr. Brian Caputo
College of DuPage