I can’t believe that more than seven months have passed since I assumed the role of Chancellor of St. Louis Community College on July 1, 2015. Although it has been a whirlwind of activity between balancing my time meeting community leaders and learning about the operations of the College, my family and I have also managed to find the time to explore the St. Louis area and meet hundreds of individuals who have welcomed us to the area and embraced us as long-standing friends.
The College has recently engaged in a Strategic Planning Cycle that is scheduled to conclude at the end of June 2016. Within the current stage of the planning cycle, staff have poured over relevant demographic, economic and workforce data, and will also be working with external stakeholder groups to assist in setting the stage to establish strategic priorities, objectives and measurable outcomes over the next three to five years. We have already discovered both progress and challenges that exist within the region, and are eager to begin aligning the College’s programs and services in a manner that will position us to be a strong partner in improving and expanding the local economy and workforce in the years ahead.
According to the State of the St. Louis Workforce Report, an annual report published by the College in partnership with the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center and the Urban League, the region’s unemployment rate has been reduced from a high of 10.9 percent in October 2009 to the current rate of 4.6 percent. The number of unemployed in the St. Louis area has steadily dropped from 104,000 in 2013 to 84,000 in May 2015.
However, challenges still exist, as the St. Louis workforce is aging, with significant growth in the 55 to 64 and 65+ age cohorts, which represented 21 percent of the workforce in 2014. As in past reports, nearly one-half of our region’s population aged 25-and-over have a high school diploma but no post-secondary education. For the first time since the report was published in 2009, a shortage of workers with knowledge or skills was the most frequently cited barrier to expanding employment by the 1,100 employers surveyed.
Equally perplexing, the events of the past two years in the St. Louis area remind us that the benefits of an improving economy have not been evenly distributed throughout our communities, with the U.S. unemployment rate for African-American male youth ages 16 to 19 at 31.1 percent, and the rate for African-Americans with less than a high school diploma is at 17.2 percent. These rates are, in some cases, double those of the population at large.
In considering all of the data, and in meeting with over 150 community leaders in the past seven months and listening to their perspectives, combined with close to 30 years of experience in the community college arena, I see St. Louis Community College as a solution to many of the challenges and the opportunities that lie ahead for the region. I also see the College as a critical player in meeting one of the top higher education goals of the State of Missouri: to increase the proportion of working-age adults with high quality, affordable postsecondary credentials to 60 percent by 2025.
Over the years, the United States has realized the significance that community colleges represent. They educate approximately 13 million students each year, and the majority of the country’s college freshman and sophomores are in community colleges. Community colleges offer the public an incredible value, it is an opportunity for students to enroll in a low cost education and learn from highly educated, experienced and dedicated faculty whose primary role is to teach within their subject area and prepare students directly for the workforce and/or further higher education. It is also an opportunity for individuals to gain a valuable education without incurring a mountain of debt and in many cases, through state and federal aid, and/or assistance through the St. Louis Community College Foundation, attend college for little or no cost.
Certainly St. Louis Community College is not without opportunities for improvement, but what I have discovered here is a gold mine within the faculty and staff who are determined to fulfill the mission of the College, and to be a beacon of light and hope for the constituents of this area. We are well positioned to meet the increasing demand for skilled workers in manufacturing, technology, health care, bio-science and other high-growth fields, the majority of which will require an associate’s degree. With over 1.2 million alumni, the College has proven itself on many fronts and will continue to be a leader among the multiple educational providers within St. Louis.
Congruent with the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program, the College’s completed Strategic Plan will undoubtedly contain elements of the key criteria of national best practices for critical community college outcomes, including a) completion of an associate’s degree or other meaningful credential, b) equity for minority and low-income students, c) assurance that learning outcomes occur relevant to the student’s program of study and d) employment in well-paying jobs upon students’ completion of their credential.
I look forward to the journey of the coming years. I also look forward to realizing St. Louis Community College’s potential as a solution to many of the region’s challenges by being a major educational and workforce development partner with the businesses and civic organizations working so diligently to make St. Louis an outstanding place to live, work and play!
I will continue to communicate with the St. Louis community through this quarterly newsletter. I plan to keep you as informed as possible regarding initiatives at the College, and I encourage you to ask any questions you may have. You can sign up to receive future newsletters here.
Jeff L. Pittman, Ph.D.
Jeff is the Chancellor of St. Louis Community College, an Adjunct Professor at Indiana State University in Higher Education Leadership and Vice-Chair of the Missouri Community College Association’s Presidents/Chancellors Council. Learn more about Dr. Pittman on stlcc.edu.