More than 100 Lorain County community members and business, education, and philanthropic leaders gathered January 10 at Lorain County Community College to discuss ways to improve social and economic mobility in Lorain County.
David Dodson, president of MDC, served as keynote speaker at the College’s mid-year Convocation in the morning and second annual Community Connection Session, hosted by the Lorain County Community College District Board of Trustees later that evening. MDC is a national leader in helping organizations and communities close the gaps that separate people from opportunity. Dodson’s presentation, “Why Mobility Matters,” illustrated the reality of upward economic mobility and the many community factors that can propel or halt it.
“Upward economic mobility in America is stalled,” Dodson said.
Dodson showed that while the nation overall grapples with the issue, there are regional peaks and troughs—with Lorain County representing one of the most challenged areas. According to the Equality of Opportunity Project, a child born in Lorain County to a family in the lowest income quintile has only a 5.1 percent chance of rising to the highest quintile.
“The odds are far less than fair,” Dodson said. “You can see how profoundly constrained in this community the odds are of a person getting to a better place.”
The most powerful difference maker in positive economic mobility is education. The likelihood that a child born in the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution, who does not earn a college degree, will stay in the bottom quintile is 39 percent. But if that child does earn a degree, the odds of staying put diminish to 10 percent.
“There’s a direct correlation between educational attainment and economic mobility and we are moving the needle in Lorain County,” said Marcia Ballinger, Ph.D., president of Lorain County Community College.
Between 1990 and 2015, the number of Lorain County residents with an associate degree or higher grew from 19 to 33 percent.
“But we need to do more to ensure that all parts of our community and all of our residents are able to achieve economic mobility through education,” Ballinger said.
By 2025, 65 percent of the nation’s jobs will require a post-secondary credential. That is the State of Ohio’s Department of Higher Education educational attainment goal. To do its part in reaching that percentage, Lorain County Community College is honing its focus in two areas.
“We know our College Credit Plus program is making a great impact on high school students in Lorain County,” Ballinger said.
The program’s legislation, which lets students earn college credits while in high school for free, was put in place in 2014. At that time 20 percent of Lorain County residents held associate degrees—today that number is 35 percent.
“Just last year, 43 percent of Lorain County public high school seniors graduated with some college credit and the average credits earned for that graduating class was more than 19 credits,” Ballinger said. “It’s such a jumpstart for these students and it makes earning that associate degree, which is oftentimes a stepping stone to more education, that much easier and cost effective.”
The College also plans to focus on the 20 percent of Lorain County residents who have taken some college courses, but have yet to earn a degree.
“When we consider the importance of education in terms of economic mobility, the decisive factor is a credential or a degree,” Ballinger stressed. “There are so many reasons why Lorain County residents have taken some college-level courses, but didn’t earn a degree. We’re going to reach those students, identify the barriers they faced, and remove them. And that work necessitates partnerships within the community.”
Dodson introduced many barriers that can derail a community’s education system and stall economic mobility, including residential segregation, family structure, and social capital. Community members, led by Michael Collins, vice president of Building Educational Pathways for Jobs for the Future, discussed the diverse, local challenges they see in their work, while underscoring the need for common goals and collaboration to overcome them.
“Working only in our own space will not meet the challenge,” Collins said. “There are so many factors that require connections and partnerships and this community conversation is important. We need to ask ourselves, how might we work together to collaborate even more strongly?”
New President and CEO of the Community Foundation of Lorain County, Cynthia Andrews confirmed that residents—especially those in poverty—require connections and partnerships to succeed. She told the story of a woman who came through the WE3 (Women Empowered, Educated and Employed) Community Collaborative, a program that helps hard-working single moms increase their earning potential, during Andrews’ time at Oberlin Community Services, a WE3 partner. The single, mother of two attended an informational meeting about the program and asked Andrews if getting a job upon completion was guaranteed.
“Employment is the end goal for the program, but it’s not a guarantee,” Andrews had told her. “But I said that we would use every partner we had to make sure she overcame every challenge she faced, whether that challenge is meeting employers or providing food to her family.”
Andrews proudly shared that the woman did obtain a job at the end of the program and is now working for a local utility company earning more than $30/hour. She came back to WE3—her now trusted support system—when she was ready to buy a house. Three members of the collaborative helped her through the process and she purchased her first home this fall.
The WE3 Community Collaborative, of which Lorain County Community College is a lead agency, is a wonderful example of the cross-organizational collaboration necessary to make the greatest impact, Ballinger said.
“More than a dozen partners have come together to create WE3,” Ballinger said. “While each partner plays a unique and critical role in the program’s success, I know that it’s the cohesive nature of those offerings that’s making a difference in the lives of the women we serve. All Lorain County residents need collaboration like that to remove the barriers they face and give them the opportunity and the power to change their economic status.”
Dodson also stressed that a community’s ability to face the adaptive challenges that hinder economic mobility is to change the culture and systems that have kept the current patterns in place. And he was inspired by the diverse community that had convened for the cause.
“I think that’s happening here; the right ingredients are in this community. I see the evidence and I feel the commitment. And if we succeed, then the American Dream can come to life again—first in Lorain County and then around the country by your example.”
The College plans to host subsequent planning sessions focused on the key topics that came out of Wednesday evening’s discussion. For more information or to get involved visit www.lorainccc.edu/connection or contact Alison Musser, director, Strategic Community Engagement and Initiatives at (440) 366-7651 or firstname.lastname@example.org.