College of the Redwoods


Cal Poly Humboldt

College Matters | Community colleges are vital partners in education

This article was originally posted in the College Matters column of the Times-Standard.

Thursday, June 22, 2023 - 12:30pm

At the root of our work, at our foundation, is the belief that those in higher education are, first, educators. One of our primary beliefs is that we can change the world through education.

As educators, like in other professions, we can take on tasks and not always recognize the many others willing to work beside us toward this purpose. For Cal Poly Humboldt, we have chosen to take a different path the past few years, developing partnerships with our educational colleagues across the region so that all of us can be successful.

With strong partnerships, we’re better able to provide access to students, we can offer a stronger educational experience, and we can provide greater opportunities for hands-on learning experiences and career opportunities not only for students but also our workforce and communities.

Some of our most important partners are community colleges, especially those in far Northern California. Our incredible relationship with the College of the Redwoods has never been stronger, as you may have heard me say before. Its president, Dr. Keith Flamer, along with its workforce are valued colleagues and incredible educators keenly focused on bettering this world. We have taken on initiatives to provide greater opportunities for local students and improve the quality of life here on the North Coast. All of us who live in this region benefit from these two higher education institutions working closely together.

The strong relationship between our two campuses is helping Cal Poly Humboldt build upon what we have learned to strengthen our partnerships with other nearby community colleges. Of course, “nearby” is relative when you’re talking about this part of the state. In this context, we are thinking of an area that is north of Mendocino to Oregon on the coast and north of the Sacramento area inland.

We have much in common with these schools, meaning our students often have similar interests and the career opportunities in our region are similar. These campuses embrace a collaborative spirit and value the diversity, resilience, and potential of students. We are a bit rural by nature, certainly remote, and centered on service. We know that when their students transfer to Cal Poly Humboldt, the retention and graduation rates are very strong. In fact, transfer students retain and graduate much higher than other students that attend Cal Poly Humboldt.

Before COVID, we began these conversations. Post-COVID, we have visited or acted upon building stronger partnerships with Lassen College, Mendocino College, Shasta College, College of the Siskiyous, and Feather River College. We have been having high-level conversations with leaders at various levels at these colleges — with the goal of improving pathways for students, increasing accessibility to education, improving opportunities for faculty and staff collaboration, and, frankly, just being better service providers to our respective communities.

At Mendocino College, we have a special insider connection in its president, Dr. Tim Karas, who is a Humboldt alumnus. He happens to be one of six alumni who have served as campus presidents in recent years across the United States and Asia.

These conversations focus on many of the same things. Key among them is how we can support one another as educational colleagues and, importantly, how we can assist one another in crises or emergencies. We also talk about athletics and other opportunities that might be unique to each college, like a specialized academic program or specific needs that they have heard from nearby employers.

How does this manifest itself? A simple conversation can provide a high level of support when a campus is in need. A few years ago, Lassen College was in the midst of the Dixie Fire. It had students who had been living on campus and needed a place to stay. Within hours these students were bussed to Humboldt where we provided housing, meals, and support.

Our responsibility as educators at Cal Poly Humboldt and at community colleges is clear — to work together on behalf of our students and our communities, to always seek to expand educational opportunities and support prosperity in our region, and to be flexible in ensuring that students have access to college when they are ready.

I am a big believer and supporter of community colleges. Many of you already know that I am a graduate of a community college. Nationally and in California, community colleges have long been a pillar for local economies while providing opportunities for millions of students. Community colleges are affordable, providing access to nearly everyone, and allowing students a wide range of options like certificates, transfer to a state university, and two-year and four-year degrees that qualify them for many careers.

The partnerships that Cal Poly Humboldt is forming are strategically shaping how we will better serve California in the future. While we certainly want students to attend Cal Poly Humboldt, what matters most is that they start their education someplace. Starting and finishing that education with one of our partners only strengthens the North State and North Coast.

Be kind.

Dr. Tom Jackson Jr. is the president of Cal Poly Humboldt.