PERRYSBURG, Ohio (AP) — In the spring, Owens Community College President Steve Robinson introduced a way to address the stigma attached to two-year schools.

Since then, #EndCCStigma has gone national and just recently a video was released that features students, faculty and staff from 18 of the 23 community colleges in Ohio speaking out against the stigma and in support for the great work accomplished at community colleges.

“I didn’t know it would take off this way,” Robinson said. “It was really encouraging to see how many people cared about this issue. It’s been very rewarding.”

The college rolled out the hashtag campaign in February, and since then it has spread throughout Ohio and nationally. His Twitter account has stories from all over the country addressing the stigma, including an article by the president of New Hampshire Technical Institute of Concord, as well as a student news outlet story from Southern Illinois University.

His initials goal was to raise awareness about the benefits of community colleges.

“There really is a stigma against community colleges,” Robinson said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with our quality. This negative perception isn’t from people reacting to bad experiences. It’s just ignorance.

“We’re going to have to confront the stigma directly to change it. The goal is to build a more accurate perception of the quality of community colleges.”

This year Robinson also has started podcasts that support the mission of creating a more accurate view of community colleges and push back against the unfair stigma.

He is making the podcasts in part to amplify the voice of community colleges. He takes his recording equipment with him when he travels and, to date, he has recorded interviews in 15 states.

“I’m biased of course. What we love are the voices of our students. Voices of people who have changed their lives because of a great community college.”

The new video came from a brainstorming session with other community colleges who thought a partnership could be developed, said Jared Meade, manager of public and media relations at Owens.

The idea was pitched to Jack Hershey with the Ohio Association of Community Colleges, who facilitated contact with other community college presidents in Ohio.

“The purpose of the video was to show all the community colleges in Ohio had come together to back this campaign,” Meade said.

The video is of students, faculty and graduates telling why they wanted to end the stigma and why community college was important to them.

“Having that many different participants … knowing that some of them may even be using their cellphone to shoot these … we were pleasantly surprised with how well it turned out,” he said.

The video touts the ability of community college students to take classes while staying at home and caring for family; that education doesn’t have to be daunting or expensive; and that community colleges offer a personal learning environment with individual attention from instructors.

“We need to come together and address these assumptions and change perception,” Robinson says in the video.

“We’re not going to change our name. We’re going to change your mind.”

Assumptions include there’s a lack of rigor, that they are only for people who couldn’t get into a four-year university, they’re an extension of high school and that credits won’t transfer, he said.

“We have boatloads of data that show those assumption are not true.”

Community colleges and universities work together to make credits transfer in real time, every semester. Community college graduates are even courted by elite colleges. Robinson cited a May Boston Globe newspaper article about a community college graduate being accepted into Harvard.

He compared Owens to a liberal arts college, where the focus is on teaching, not on research, and there are small class sizes and great faculty.

“We’ve got a great story to tell to combat those stereotypes,” Robinson said.

The anti-stigma campaign is spreading.

“People are writing about this. We want to aggregate these stories. The hashtag is almost like a resource coding system,” he said.

When he started on Twitter, he had 400 followers. That number is up to 1,300 due to the hashtag campaign, he said.

Owens has shared the video with the 17 community colleges that took part in it, and the marketing department has created graphics that can be used by colleges across the country.

The video can be viewed on YouTube and it has been shared with Ohio Department of Higher Education, the Ohio Association of Community Colleges and the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation.

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Information from: The Sentinel-Tribune, http://www.sent-trib.com

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