GRCC President Pink: Higher education, employers, community-based organizations must support K-12 districts so all students can succeed

Watch video of Dr. Pink's remarks here.

May 30, 2019 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Michigan schools will overcome great challenges only if we are willing to confront problems without blame and work together toward a solution, Grand Rapids Community College President Bill Pink said during remarks at the Mackinac Policy Conference.

Pink spoke from the Main Stage at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual gathering of the state’s top business, government, civic, philanthropic and entrepreneurial leaders.

It is the one event that pulls together the most influential people in the state to meet with local, state and national lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. Together, they confront the most important issues facing people in Michigan and beyond. People at the conference are the ones who drive the discussion and can force changes.

While Pink and other community college leaders have presented at smaller sessions at past Mackinac conferences, it’s believed to be the first time a community college president addressed the entire group from the Main Stage.  Pink was joined by Chamber President and CEO Sandy Baruah and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in discussing how Michigan can address issues needing attention to help all students succeed.

The challenge, Pink said, is exacerbated by an increasing need for high school students to graduate and go on to gain a post-secondary education. The Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce analysis shows Michigan will need 175,000 new graduates with four-year degrees and 126,000 graduates with an associate degree or career skills certificates to meet the demand for a skilled workforce.

“The issues we are facing are hitting our urban areas, rural areas and suburban areas,” Pink said prior to the event. “Ignoring the problem is not an option, nor is pointing fingers. It’s all our fault, and it’s all of our responsibility to fix it. We need to get to a point as a state where we recognize the issue, but also say, ‘How do we tackle this together?’”

Pink said the state can reverse declines by abandoning a stratified, “siloed” approach. Instead, the state must focus on opportunities for K-12 districts, higher education, community-based organizations and local employers to collaborate. Community colleges -- many already developing strong partnerships with employers and districts -- are in a key position to lead in these areas.

“Our mission in West Michigan is to be relevant and responsive to the people we serve,” Pink said. “We’re being aggressive and have strong partners who also are committed to helping all students have opportunities to succeed. We’re proud to be making progress.”

Pink said collaboration with the Grand Rapids Public Schools has led to a 31 percent increase in GRPS students attending GRCC last fall.

Working closely with GRPS Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal, GRCC has assigned an associate dean to focus largely on creating a seamless transition to college and helping students overcome obstacles to success. The district has expanded middle college programs, assigned GRCC success coaches to work with GRPS students and created a variety of summer programs to help students retain knowledge and be ready for their freshman year.

The college also collaborated with the Grand Rapids Community Foundation on a Challenge Scholars program in which GRPS students receive a series of supports and are eligible for free tuition.

GRCC also has partnerships with districts to introduce students to careers, including one with Northview Public Schools in which alternative high school students can earn multiple certificates in the skilled trades.

GRCC also collaborates with suburban and rural districts, with middle college programs in Kentwood and Cedar Springs. The college also was the only one in Michigan to receive the six-year, $2.1 million Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs -- or GEAR UP – grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The grant helps students in the Godfrey-Lee, Godwin Heights, Kelloggsville, and Wyoming school districts gain academic assistance to boost their chances for success in college and beyond.

GRCC works with more than 400 employers on training opportunities for students once they are in college, or whether they are returning to gain new skills. Workforce training programs include a partnership with heavy metal band Metallica’s foundation and the American Association of Community Colleges. GRCC was one of 10 community colleges in the nation to receive the grant, and nontraditional students and those from underserved populations will start training next month for welding careers.

Other partnerships include other colleges and the some of the region’s largest employers. A medical assistant partnership involves GRCC working with Muskegon and Montcalm community colleges, Spectrum Health, Mercy Health, Cherry Health, West Michigan Works! and the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Apprenticeship. It is the first in the nation to be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.

“We’ve not solved every problem in West Michigan, but we’re making progress,” Pink said. “It’s not easy, and it takes time. But we’ll only eliminate this crisis if we work together. There are leaders in this room who can make it happen in their communities.”

Grand Rapids Community College has been offering educational opportunities in West Michigan for more than 100 years. Established in 1914, the college offers degree courses, certification and training programs, and workshops and personal enrichment classes. Offerings are held on GRCC’s downtown Grand Rapids campus, and at several locations throughout Kent and Ottawa counties, as well as through distance learning.


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