I am often asked whywe should consider entrepreneurship programming in our community colleges. To me, the answer has become very obvious, but I am working in a community college that has embraced entrepreneurship education in both the credit and non-credit environments for decades–specifically since 1983 in the non-credit arena and since 1992 in the credit arena.
In our current economic environment with budget challenges facing our community colleges from numerous directions (city, county, state), it is often difficult to find funding for new initiatives. In community colleges where entrepreneurship programming is currently an "idea” but not a reality, it is particularly challenging to convince decision makers to invest in a "new” program. In community colleges where entrepreneurship programming is established, convincing decision makers to invest in new initiatives for the entrepreneurship program is also challenging. Unfortunately, some decision makers are only considering new programming or new initiatives if another program or initiative is brought to the chopping block, thus making room (without any additional expense) for the new idea.
For those of us looking for a rationale for our entrepreneurship proposals (whether they are new or expanded programming initiatives), shouldn't we consider that we (America's community colleges) cannot afford not to support entrepreneurship? You are ready to make this argument when your initiatives have been properly researched for your constituency, your programming has been developed with student/client learning outcomes as the cornerstone of your initiative, and you and your team are committed to the continuous quality improvement of your initiative.
Students' Motivation Varies
Today, members of our communities and students/clients in our classrooms face numerous uncertainties about their futures. Many community members are finding themselves needing to reinvent themselves, often resulting from actions not of their own choice–they have been displaced, downsized, under-employed, need to un-retire, or are returning from military service. Some of those persons are coming to our community colleges to update their skills and return better prepared to another employer in their industry. Others are coming to us to learn new skills and seek employment in a different industry. Another group of these community members are coming to us to reinvent themselves through self-employment.
Younger students are coming to us to seek the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in their career choice. Upon completion of their studies, some plan to "take” a job with existing employers. However, increasing numbers of these younger students have come to their community college to seek the knowledge and skills necessary to "make” the job of their choice.
Whether our students/clients intend to initially invent themselves (or reinvent themselves), or to "take” a job (or "make” a job), they are attempting to prepare themselves to be productive, self-sustaining members of our communities. Whatever the reason or circumstance that brought them to our doors, we should applaud their arrival and tenacity to pursue a new direction with enhanced preparation through education.
We all recognize that at the core of every community college's mission statement is the intent to create economic vitality through education. Properly developed and delivered, entrepreneurship education provides a pathway to economic vitality. A properly developed entrepreneurial idea has the potential to create jobs (not just for the entrepreneur but for those they employ as well) and to create sustainable wealth for our communities.
Many argue that entrepreneurship is risky. They point to the high number of small business failures as proof of their stance. Conversely, those who believe in innovation and entrepreneurship as the engine for economic growth recognize that properly developed and delivered entrepreneurship education initiatives can and will minimize that risk.
At JCCC, we have developed what we believe are realistic entrepreneurship program outcomes. Developed with the assistance of the Entrepreneurship Advisory Committee, we have found this to be key to our success. Sharing those program outcomes with our NACCE colleagues may be helpful as you pursue the development and/or growth of your entrepreneurship education initiatives. For us, student success in the Entrepreneurship program is defined in these ways:
- Did the student complete a business plan and, in doing so, learn the process of business planning?
- Ultimately, did the student open the business developed in the business plan?
- Based on what the student learned in their Entrepreneurship coursework, the student could be contributing meaningfully as an intrapreneur–demonstrating the concepts of entrepreneurial thinking within their business unit in an existing business setting.
- Based on what the student learned in their Entrepreneurship coursework, the student could determine that their near future would be best spent in a corporate environment to further their learning experience and/or their financial status before embarking on an entrepreneurial venture.
- Additionally, an acceptable outcome would be for that student to realize they should not become an entrepreneur.
Future articles will address more specifically the Entrepreneurship initiatives that have worked (and not worked) at JCCC as well as the goals and expectations of each initiative. Strategies for implementation, marketing efforts, and relevant partnerships will be identified. For each of the initiatives discussed in upcoming articles, we will connect the initiative to JCCC's mission of improving economic vitality through quality education.