A Bright Future for Community Colleges in Bergen County and New Jersey

Aron Solomon

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Bergen Community College

Bergen Community College is the largest community college in New Jersey. With close to 20,000 students in total, as BCC is close to turning sixty years old, the school finds itself at the epicenter of a national movement.

With the average annual in-state tuition of public colleges now over $10,000 and private colleges off the chart at close to $40,000, community colleges remain an affordable option for families in Bergen County, as well as throughout the state and nation.

Community colleges have a far broader mission in New Jersey than do four-year colleges. Not only do the state’s community colleges provide the academic preparation and solid foundation to move on to further study, they also provide the skills for students to directly enter the state’s workforce.

Michael Epstein, a Englewood Cliffs lawyer and lifelong resident, has seen the impact of Bergen Community College for decades:

“Community colleges are truly colleges of, by, and for the community. There is really nothing better than places such as Bergen Community College that are such an integral part of our community. I’ve personally known so many people that have used their time at a community college to gain the foundation for their next step in life.”

Which is the key for successful community colleges. Because Bergen Community College is itself such an integral part of the community,

I spoke with Dr. Larry Hlavenka Jr., who is the Executive Director - Public Relations, Community and Cultural Affairs, at Bergen Community College, about how the college supports a wide range of students and how the college delivers a truly compelling value proposition.

“Community colleges are funded on the idea of not only open access but responding to community needs. Community colleges across New Jersey are able to source our students’ needs and develop programs that respond.”

This is an important point and a real differentiator between community colleges and the vast majority of four-year colleges. In some ways, community colleges can serve the needs of their students by serving the business model of local businesses.

Dr. Hlavenka added:

“We work very closely with the business community to respond to the needs of local industry. At Bergen Community College, logistics and healthcare are two specific areas where we have an active partnership with businesses in the county.”

What makes this special is the community colleges are truly an American creation and innovation. A great source of pride for Hlavenka is how BCC and the other New Jersey community colleges run their businesses.

“We open our doors to everybody. Four year colleges pick and choose who they want, while everyone can come to us at all stages of their life.”

Over the next decade, community colleges will be more important than ever. As a Brookings Institution report from last year highlighted, the types of student supports offered at top community colleges such as BCC drive the kinds of outcomes that local businesses need to help grow a new, talented workforce. Flexibility with program development to serve students as well as local and regional businesses is a great current differentiator in the community college value proposition.

One of the great misconceptions about community college over the years has been about the quality of instruction. As Hlavenka pointed out, “At Bergen, we have faculty that have graduated from and worked at some of the best colleges in the nation. Our location helps attract them but ultimately they choose to work at Bergen because of the quality of our college and programs.”

The future is truly bright for New Jersey community colleges, the students who make the life-changing decisions of studying there, and the local businesses that benefit from practical programs that train exactly the kinds of innovative workers they need to move forward.

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Aron Solomon, JD, is the Chief Legal Analyst for Esquire Digital, who has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania, and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world.

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