DCC’s Pamela Edington champions largest student body in the valley

What percent of graduating DCC students transfer to four-year colleges?

More than 80 percent. Our two main transfer schools are SUNY-New Paltz and Marist College, although students transfer throughout all the SUNY institutions and private colleges both in and out of state. We’re very proud that 66 percent of our graduates have no student debt when they leave our college.

Marist and SUNY-New Paltz have been good partners. We actually have a Bridges to Excellence program with Marist, in which students are co-admitted to Marist and DCC and receive transfer support from Marist. For families to pay our tuition for two years [of their college education] is a huge savings.

 

Who’s eligible to attend?

Access has always been a cornerstone of the community college mission, so anyone who has completed a high school course of study is eligible to enter.

 

Does that open admissions policy create a great need for remedial courses?

We work with students to bring them up to the college level. It’s a national issue, that students coming out of high school are not prepared for college, and we experience that as well. The City of Poughkeepsie school system, for example, is struggling with a graduation rate of only 51 to 55 percent, so it takes a concerted effort.

 

Does DCC have a role in helping boost that graduation rate?

A couple of weeks after I started we applied for a state-funded P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College) grant, which is designed to fund a six-year collaboration between a school district, a community college and an industry partner. We were successful in receiving a $2.1 million grant and are working now on a six-year program of study in partnership with the City of Poughkeepsie school system and Central Hudson. (SUNY-New Paltz is also a partner.)

Students in the Poughkeepsie School District come into the program in ninth grade, and after six years will graduate with a high school diploma and Associate’s degree. They’ll pursue an Engineering or related degree and will be first in line for jobs at Central Hudson.

The program will launch next fall with 50 students, and 300 will be enrolled when the program is in full swing in six years. We’ll also be adding other employers, such as the Chazen Companies. This also gives us the opportunity to build a close collaboration with the City of Poughkeepsie schools, so we can identify other opportunities in which we can work together. It’s an early win for my administration.

 

What is your reaction to President Obama’s proposal to make community colleges tuition-free?

Anything that sheds the national spotlight on community colleges and their importance in building an educated citizenry is positive and productive. I’ll be interested to see how this proposal develops. We have a similar initiative here, the Conklin Scholarship, where, through our Foundation, Dutchess County students who graduate in the top ten percent of their high school can attend DCC tuition-free for two years. It’s a very successful program and one of which we’re very proud.

 

Another goal of yours is to “implement a service learning program that offers opportunities for students to deepen their academic learning while helping to meet community-defined needs.” Any action on that front?

We’re in the process of creating a service learning program. It’s in line with a SUNY initiative, endorsed by Governor Cuomo, to ensure graduates have applied learning experience while strengthening the education experience by connecting theory with practice. The idea is to hone and test students’ skills in coming up with solutions to real-world problems.

In the past six months I’ve had opportunities to meet and talk with numerous community organizations, and I’m asking them what their needs are. Once we can identify what needs to be done, we can integrate the community’s needs with what we’re doing here at the college. It’s a work-in-progress, and we’ll be doing some faculty training in the spring. We’re looking to have at least one pilot course integrated with service learning in the fall semester.

 

Would that program have ripple effects?

There are many reasons why it will strengthen the educational experience, but the most important is that it enables the student to apply the knowledge gained in the classroom to the local community. As a post-secondary institution, part of our responsibility is to teach our students how to be good civic citizens, which means understanding what the local problems are and how to be part of the solution.

We have a local food pantry and lunch program for people in need. Marist and Vassar students routinely participate at the meal service, interacting with people. We need to have our DCC students, who will continue to work and live and vote here, to have the same kind of opportunity to be involved in the local community, whether it’s helping solve environmental problems or assisting at the public schools or health-related organizations.

 

Does this initiative fit in with your plan to establish more local partnerships?

Yes, definitely. Late last week I met with IBM and United Way about United Way’s program to strengthen reading in the third grade. Students being able to read at a third-grade level is one of the key indicators of their future success, so a lot of people need to be invested to make sure that happens. Instead of working alone, it’s better that we coordinate our work so we can strengthen the outcomes. Thankfully there’s a lot of interest here in doing that. A lot of social organizations are invested in improving life here in Dutchess County, and we’re eager to collaborate and happy to have the college be part of that initiative.

 

Do you worry about the state of higher education funding in New York?

We’re in the process of advocating for the governor’s budget to increase the state’s investment in public higher education. It seems to go hand-in-hand with the state’s ambitions as a whole. New York should have the highest educational standards in the country, and SUNY should be the driver of that. We’re hoping the state legislature will support the increase in funding for our educational institutions.

We know that to have high success rates with students, you need support, which typically has to do with their interaction with faculty or a staff member. You need human resources on campus to support career counseling or mental health, or academic advising or tutoring, and you need a sufficient number of full-time faculty to offer an educational program. It’s an expensive proposition, and keeping it affordable is an ongoing challenge. We want the state to see this as an investment in our future.

 

Where would you like the college to be five years from now?

I would like to see that we are universally recognized as having had a pivotal role in the transformation of the City of Poughkeepsie. Over that same time period, we also must ensure that the investment in our facilities and programs of study at this college, which has been here close to 60 years, continues to be exemplary.

Dutchess County Community College, 53 Pendell Road, Poughkeepsie; (845) 431-8010, www.sunydutchess.edu.

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