One Cumberland: Reaching for Higher, Fulfilling Our Potential

Cumberland County is an exceptional community. These were the exact words of Google executive, Steve Vinter, who was one of two keynote speakers at our recent Business Leaders’ Summit. Vinter joined the community for an intimate dinner the evening before the conference and a community leaders breakfast the morning after. Impressed with the business leaders, politicians and students with whom he met, he promised to come back next year. Similarly, Michelle Drolet, CEO of Towerwall—an information security company—asked why she hadn’t heard of Cumberland before. The event also showcased our best talent in the county, a range of entrepreneurs and their businesses, and our two hospital networks: Inspira and Complete Care.

The leaders who attended the breakfast spoke of the role that Cumberland County College can play as a convener and facilitator for helping the community reach its potential. Beyond educating students, as a community college, part of our mission is to help advance the economic vitality of the county by securing resources for our businesses and engaging in activities tailored to the specific needs of the community.

By working together as one cohesive community, being inclusive, and approaching our work with the understanding that we can set high goals for ourselves and attain them through collaborative efforts, we can excel at the College and as a county.

Over the next few months, Cumberland County College will be developing its strategic plan for 2018-2023. This is an opportunity for us to articulate our goals and map our strategy for high performance on traditional indicators such as increasing enrollment and graduation. It is also an opportunity for us to authentically engage the external community around the College’s role in supporting a stronger, more economically vibrant Cumberland that is not at or near the bottom of key socioeconomic indicators in the state. We will need your insights and feedback.

We know that Cumberland County, as a community, has immense potential. We know that. It is also validating when others visit and can see the unrealized potential that we know we can unlock. Our time is now, Cumberland!

Previously published on thedailyjournal.com on April 26, 2017.

Giving Hope and Opportunity to the Incarcerated

Across our county, many community members are concerned with the incarcerated population. Their concerns are well founded, not just for those who are within the prison system but for their families also. We know from existing research that kids within families with experience in the corrections system have a higher probability of engaging in the kinds of risky behaviors that can lead to incarceration. It’s bad enough to have one family member impacted, but worse for multiple generations. It’s a concern for the entire community, not just those directly impacted.

Recidivism is also a concern. Our Freeholders, County Prosecutor, a number of community-based organizations, and concerned citizens have worked together to make great strides in reducing the recidivism rate. Working with Rutgers University, the County has working groups that meet regularly to make measurable and preventative differences in the lives of our youth. The outcomes of such efforts would be enhanced significantly if coupled with robust higher education opportunities for those locked up and their at-risk families.

Consider this: a person sitting in jail has ample free time. Without a trade, technical, or vocational skill, or even an associate degree, when they are freed they are much more likely to engage in the kinds of behavior that landed them in a cell to begin with. With some sort of credential, they have hope and the opportunity to earn an honest living. This is why as President of the College, I support the reinstatement of the federal Pell grant for incarcerated people. It is good for the individual, good for the local economy, and good for other honest taxpayers who help support those in need. It is in our best communal interest to see to it that folks are given the opportunity for redemption and the means for dignified, honest work.

While some may have good intentions of leading an honest life upon release, without the skill, the means, and the opportunity, intentions never become reality. Cumberland County College is committed to educating all people for the purpose of a healthy, safe, and self-sustaining community.

Previously published on thedailyjournal.com on March 30, 2017.