At a time when the national economy is of concern to everyone, the role entrepreneurship education at community colleges can play in economic development is well worth exploring. Though the specific economic challenges different regions across the country face vary sharply, it is clear from the experience of NACCE members that entrepreneurship education can be a key component to helping all types of communities build economic strength.
Let’s look at two communities with very contrasting economic challenges:
• New York’s Cayuga County is home of Cayuga Community College (CCC), located in the beautiful Finger Lakes region. "In our area, the manufacturing companies that were powerhouses a generation ago have either downsized or moved out completely,” says Daniel Larson, President of CCC. "Part of our challenge is that we have a very skilled workforce that needs to be retrained and retooled and needs to have the ability to do work that is commensurate with what they were doing previously.
"For many people this is their opportunity to look at career shifts and whether they may want to develop their own small business or be their own boss,” adds Larson. "That is not to say that manufacturing is dead, but it has changed tremendously. It’s no longer that dirty, hands-on environment; it’s much more automated and leaner.”
Larson says that with the help of several foundations that have deep roots in Cayuga County, the region is looking at how to help reinvent the area and build on its obvious assets. "For this part of central New York,” he says, "it’s certainly tourism, culture and the history that are associated with it, as well as the natural beauty and the New York state wineries.”
• Maryland’s Anne Arundel County, home of Anne Arundel Community College (AACC), is equidistant between Washington, DC, and Baltimore, MD, and is home of the state capital in Annapolis. Also in the county is Fort Meade, one of the country’s largest military bases. Fort Meade is growing even larger as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) program. According to the county’s Web site, conservative estimates place the direct, indirect, and induced jobs being created in Anne Arundel County in conjunction with BRAC in the range of 9,000 to 14,000 jobs by 2011, with many being well-paid high-tech positions.
"The defense industry is an opportunity and a challenge,” says Martha Smith, President of AACC. "Some of the jobs that are coming here will bring people with them but others won’t, so we’re gearing up now to know what skills people will need to take on those positions. We are also the backbone of the bioscience corridor between DC and Baltimore, and we are continually being asked to train more and more workers in those areas.”
Different Needs; Same Solution
"Despite having economies that are dramatically different, both these communities can benefit from having strong entrepreneurship education at the community college level,” says NACCE Executive Director Heather Van Sickle. "We see the same story with members all across the nation, from urban to rural areas. People increasingly understand why entrepreneurship education is important and why community colleges, with their strong community roots and focus, are in the best position to offer this service to their communities.”
When it comes to helping Anne Arundel County adjust to the BRAC influx of jobs and the demands of a growing bioscience industry, Smith says entrepreneurship education has a big role to play in both areas. "On the broadest dimension, a large part of entrepreneurship education is about developing the ability of individuals and organizations to be innovative and creative,” she says. "Unless we’re intentional and focused on helping students develop these skills across disciplines, we’ll lose what has made America great. We need to bring this skill set across the curriculum; you don’t have to major in Entrepreneurship Studies to help you develop your own sense of creativity and innovation.”
AACC’s Entrepreneurial Studies Institute (ESI), founded five years ago, continues to evolve in new directions. The ESI includes a Collegiate Entrepreneurs Club (www.c-e-o.org), a student business incubator and a social entrepreneurship program. "We are also active in the community in the area of economic development,” says Smith. "We have a close working relationship with the county’s economic development corporation, and we’re on the boards of about seven chambers of commerce. We host an annual meeting of all the chamber CEOs, executive directors and board members to talk about the economic issues they’re facing and how we can help.”
New Tactics for a New Future
"Eighty percent of our alums live within 50 miles of the college,” says Larson. "For those graduates to have a knowledge of what it means to be involved in a small business and to take their own idea and evolve it will bode well for the innovation and creativity this region was known for 100 years ago and still in many ways continues to be known for,” says Larson.
To help drive entrepreneurship education throughout its curriculum, CCC has established the nation’s first endowed chair in Entrepreneurship at a community college. The college’s entrepreneurship offerings are closely linked to the region’s new Stardust Institute for Entrepreneurship. (See Community College Entrepreneur, Spring 2007 for details on the Stardust Institute.)
"America’s community colleges enroll more than 50 percent of all undergraduate students and for them to have good experience and skill sets with entrepreneurship will set things well in terms of potential for the future,” says Larson. "These are the people who are going to be the backbone of the workforce of the future.”
"As more and more community colleges in communities all across the country launch and then build entrepreneurship education programs, they further raise their profile as major economic resources for the communities they serve,” says Van Sickle. "Building this understanding both on campus and off is an important part of what we at NACCE hope to help our members achieve.”