Community colleges are often called the “nation’s best-kept secret,” but that secret is finally become unveiled, particularly at Montgomery County Community College where the spotlight recently was shining.
On Sept. 7, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Congresswoman Madeleine Dean visited MCCC to learn more about the college and meet students to hear about their experiences.
“It is an honor and privilege for the Montco family to host the U.S. Secretary of Education Cardona and Congresswoman Dean. They had the opportunity to meet our talented and bright students, who shared their personal stories,” said Dr. Victoria L. Bastecki-Perez, MCCC President.
“We know community colleges make a difference, not only in our communities but also in the lives of each and every one of our residents across all ages and stages of life,” Bastecki-Perez said. “We are part of a solution – an economic and equity solution – to provide access to quality, affordable higher education for all. And, I couldn’t be more proud to showcase one of our two full-service campuses and to show our students in action as they are learning and engaging for a brighter future.”
Cardona and Dean started the visit by touring MCCC’s 145,000 square-foot Health Sciences Center that is home to its health science programs, municipal police academy, fitness center and multi-purpose gymnasium. The building served as Montgomery County’s first mass vaccine clinic earlier this year from January through April.
On the tour, they saw several classrooms with clinical settings. They also met nursing students who were using patient simulators as part of their course.
One of the highlights featured a demonstration of one of MCCC’s two new Anatomage Tables – digital cadavers students will use across various health programs. MCCC purchased the computerized tables for the Pottstown and Blue Bell campuses using Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Carl D. Perkins grant funds.
Following the tour, Cardona and Dean met with several students during a roundtable discussion.
“This is a gem,” Cardona said. “I saw firsthand some of the programs here, how the students are engaged, and how technology is used to advance learning, not replace it. It is really state of the art and this campus is beautiful.”
Community colleges, he said, are an investment in the community.
“When I see experiences like this, I see the benefit (of community colleges) and the return on the investment for the community,” Cardona said. “It just makes fiscal sense – for every dollar spent, there is a $4.30 return on investment. This is economic growth at its best.”
Cardona spoke about President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda and how it could make higher education more accessible.
“One of the major parts of the agenda is to have community college for all across the country. Think of what the impact would be if everyone across the country would have the opportunity you have right now without having to worry about paying tuition, fees, none of that,” he said. “Think about the benefits not only for students, but also their families, and the economic impact for the community.”
Dean called the agenda “transformational” and an “investment in the next generation.”
“It will bring equity to education, which is something that frustrates me as a parent and as a former professor of 10 years,” Dean said. “You could see that some people just didn’t have a shot because of the expense, because of access and other things. This is a place for economic growth and educational excellence.”
Dean said she is a believer in MCCC.
“I took courses here, my husband earned his associate’s degree here, as well as other family members who then went on to four-year institutions,” Dean said. “I know the power of this place.”
For several of the students at the roundtable, the cost of higher education is a concern.
“One of the biggest factors for selecting Montco is the tuition,” said Jenny Nguyen, who is majoring in business administration with a minor in marketing and serves as the president of the student government association. “Both of my parents are immigrants, and I’m a first-generation college student, paying for my own tuition. I’m getting the same education as what I would get at a four-year university without incurring all that debt.”
For other students, MCCC gave them the tools to change their careers.
“I’m in my final semester of the public health program,” said Caesar Belchez, who serves as a student ambassador. “Like many others who might get sick or need to switch careers or whatever, I needed to restart again. The college helped me to pick up the pieces, redirect my own energies and efforts and use my past experiences to build a new future.”
“For me, having the opportunity to come to this police academy has been life-changing,” said Traneya White, who has her bachelor’s degree from St. Joseph’s University. “Montco opened a lot of doors for me, and I’ve actually already been hired by Lower Merion Township.”
Community colleges not only provide a sense of community for the students but also give back to the communities they serve.
“This was the college I could afford and this is where I live and will work after I graduate,” said Emily Bardman, a dental hygiene student in her last semester. “Now I’m going to be a professional in a career where I can provide health care for the community.”