Elyria looks to its college for hope

After years of economic decline, Elyria, Ohio is counting on its community college to spark a renaissance, writes the New York Times in a story on that vast territory between the coasts. Bridgette Harvan, the waitress at Donna’s Diner, is “slowly inching toward degrees in ultrasound technology and business marketing” at Lorain County Community College.

Her mother and grandmother each became pregnant at 16, but little Bridgy Harvan, now almost 21, broke that emerging pattern. When not working, she attends Lorain County Community College, Elyria’s academic marvel. She studies her textbooks during the breaks in diner action, like a cartographer charting a path through the unknown.

More than half of her high school graduating class enrolled at the fast-growing college.

Everyone, from the mayor on down, sees it as vital to Elyria’s future.

The college’s longtime president, Roy A. Church, says he is committed to helping Elyria — and northeastern Ohio — regain its economic viability, now that its once-dominant manufacturing base has been displaced by the service industry. The low-paying jobs listed by Bridgette’s Facebook friends provide a glimpse into what’s out there now: crew person at McDonald’s, associate at Jo-Ann Fabric, counter sales at Budget Auto, sales associate at Victoria’s Secret, crew member at Burger King.

To change this pattern, Dr. Church has gradually broadened the institution’s scope well beyond what is usually understood by the term “community college.” It offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees through its association with 10 Ohio universities. It provides job retraining. It works with local leaders to attract larger companies seeking to relocate.

The campus looks like the grounds of a large technology company, which isn’t far from the truth. It has an “innovation institute” where would-be entrepreneurs receive start-up money, office space and technical support. It has a “fab lab” where students — and the general public — have access to digital-fabrication tools that can help them design and create products. It has a center that offers packaging solutions for companies that make sensors. It even has a ready-made technology park, with building sites available.

Lorain is raising aspirations and spirits, Dr. Church says.

Bridgette Harvan, who’s seen her grandmother and mother waiting tables for years without ever getting ahead, wants more for herself.  “I need sleep! I need insurance! And a 401(k)! I need those things. I need those things.”

Focusing on one career path — ultrasound technology would be the better bet — would speed her progress toward a useful credential. But she’ll have less time for college in the future: She’s pregnant. Harvan lives with her unemployed boyfriend. Is he training for a job at Lorain? The Times doesn’t say.

POSTED BY Joanne Jacobs ON October 18, 2012

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