The Undervalued Asset in our Backyards

This post is written by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

There’s been a lot in the news lately about the Biden Administration’s proposed initiative to make community college more accessible and tuition-free. This battle might have been lost in the shortterm, but it serveas an important reminder about what valuable assets community colleges which exist in many of our backyards can be.

These undervalued resources sit right at the epicenter of the inclusive economy we hear people talking about today. Community colleges have been an essential part of a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem for years, and the work being done within their walls is more important than ever.

There are some community college leaders who don’t consider themselves entrepreneurial leaders, or see themselves as part of the robust ecosystem of entrepreneur advocates. But who knows more about the potential of the next generation of entrepreneurs waiting to be nurtured and trained to become the job creators of the future? Who has spent year after year helping students overcome barriers to opportunity?

As you well know, what we need to break down barriers of access to opportunity is true systems change across public policy and the private sector. We need better access to early childhood education, stronger entrepreneurial training in K-12 education, equitable lending and access to capital for ALL, and public policies that allow everyone to meet their potential, whether that’s through addressing childhood poverty, increasingaccess to broadband technology or providing the basic necessities of life from affordable housing to transit.

We recognize these are big goals, and we don’t expect to make progress overnight. But the key to making the change we need is healthy and thriving ecosystems in every community in the country working together to tackle these challenges. Community colleges are a critical part of that ecosystem whose contributions are needed to ensure students’ voices and needs are met.

At the Kauffman Foundation, we are working to support the creation of healthy ecosystems. One of the resources we’ve recently released toward that end is the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Building Playbook that outlines the principles for building healthy ecosystems. If you’re looking for the role you can play to strengthen the ecosystem in your area, I strongly encourage you to take a look at the playbook and use it to guide the actions within your local ecosystem.

We also recognize that true systems change is a far bigger goal than any single institution can oversee on its own and will require significant changes in public policy. To help guide the efforts of local ecosystems, the Kauffman Foundation has created a bipartisan policy framework and roadmap that outlines policies needed to strengthen access to entrepreneurship and create inclusive economies called America's New Business Plan.

Our work is grounded in the principles of racial equity, diversity, and inclusion as we seek inclusive prosperity through entrepreneur-focused economic development and a prepared workforce.

And by focusing on the populations who historically have faced systemic barriers to opportunity, we create a virtuous cycle that —when they succeed —will help others succeed, as well.

But we can’t do this alone. Far from it, we can only capitalize on this moment and create the economy your students deserve if community colleges continue to support the ecosystems in their areas. If we get this right, we’ll have finally reached a day where the color of your skin or the ZIP code you’re born into no longer limits your destiny.