In August, Cumberland County College officially launched its strategic planning process. We have taken great care to ensure that the process is inclusive and aligns with other strategic plans in the county. With more than 70 participants from across the county, we have broken the process into iterative phases that will lead to a document that reflects the County’s aspirations for its premier higher education institution.
For more than a year, I have heard members of our community express the need for the type of inclusive economic participation that leads to individual financial independence and family legacies that build multi-generational wealth—both in terms of monetary value and social capital. While K-12 schools and higher education cannot solve all of society’s problems, in the current knowledge economy, socioeconomic mobility is impossible without post-secondary education or training.
Earlier this month, the New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education, Rochelle Hendricks, and the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development, Aaron Fichtner, held a summit that discussed the future of jobs in New Jersey, our state’s preparedness to take advantage of the current positions and the positions of the near future. Their lead speaker, the CEO of the Lumina Foundation, Jamie Merisotis, highlighted the disparity in education and training preparedness across counties in New Jersey. The biggest take-away from the session was that to achieve economic prosperity, counties such as Cumberland need to ensure that adequate opportunities for educational achievement and job participation exist across income status, gender, and race.
Cumberland cannot afford to leave any child or adult behind. Anecdotally, my fellow Cumberland residents have shared with me that our County has been losing its young people. As our Freeholders and CCIA leaders have shared recently, with nearly 1,000 jobs added to the Cumberland rosters recently, we are in the midst of an economic revival. Our continued success depends on empowering youth and adults to fully participate and to give them more reasons to remain in our county, like upward mobility through jobs with career ladders.
Cumberland is not alone in its efforts to retain a skilled labor force. In March, the New Jersey Business and Industry Association convened a group of prominent business leaders who lamented about the rate of out-migration from New Jersey and the flight of the millennials in the state. The NJBIA President, Michele Siekerka, responded to this by forming a Post-secondary Taskforce that includes industry, education, and policy-makers from diverse regions of the state.
Cumberland County College’s strategic plan cannot solve the gargantuan issue of retaining millennials, but working with our K-12, economic development, and non-profit partners, as well as our local elected officials and private citizens, we can educate the youth and adult populations to take advantage of 21st century jobs. Working together to give them reasons to stay in Cumberland and support our existing and prospective businesses’ training needs.
The mission of community colleges, since their inception, has been to support individuals and businesses in their respective local communities. Through this next strategic plan, we aim to live our mission by enabling full economic participation and with the kind of institutional agility that the modern, 21st century environment requires.
Previously published on thedailyjournal.com on October 2, 2017.