Community colleges are an American innovation. They grew out of the democratization of education in the late 19th century thanks to the Morrill Land-Grant Act, which President Abraham Lincoln signed into law on July 2, 1862. Up until then, a post-high-school education was available only through private colleges, universities and military academies, which were quite selective and cost-prohibitive for most people.
The Morrill Act called for the formation of a federally funded system of industrial colleges that taught skills related to critical workforce needs of the day, including agriculture and engineering. This opened up for the first time in the U.S. the availability of affordable higher education for all and led to the founding of the first community college in 1901. Today, there are more than 1,000 publicly funded community colleges across the country.
I share this little bit of history because it’s interesting to consider the fact that since their inception more than 100 years ago, community colleges have remained true to their original mission of being local sources of higher education. Their open-door policies have always made them one of the most diverse and inclusive types of organizations in the country, even to this day. They continue to provide the education and training needed to meet local workforce demands. They are still required to adjust quickly to shifts in an ever-changing world. Forsyth Tech is a case in point.
We now live in disruptive times. Technology is evolving rapidly. The pace of economic change is accelerating. Industries and corporations are being forced to reinvent themselves to remain competitive in an increasingly digital landscape. Understandably, this affects how community colleges prepare students for today’s – and tomorrow’s workplace.
At Forsyth Tech, we are responding to these forces of change proactively by serving as an incubator for educational and instructional innovation. From transportation to the design arts to nanotechnology, our faculty and staff are working hard to anticipate the jobs of the future so we can prepare our students today. This requires a huge investment of resources to meet needs such as costly state-of-the-art equipment, fully outfitted labs and upgraded facilities, which fall outside our state and county budget allocations. This is why we rely on both public and private support to meet instructional and operating expenses.
In the cover story, we address these funding challenges in the context of some of the exciting and innovative programming that is being developed at Forsyth Tech. These are the ways we are remaining true to our original mission: to continually invest in our students’ success and our community’s future.