I am writing on behalf of Maryland's 16 community colleges in response to your editorial of Dec. 29 entitled "Educating the work force," in which you comment favorably on the University System of Maryland (USM) Strategic Plan 2010-2020. The community colleges work closely with USM in a number of areas and are a vital partner in achieving Gov. Martin O'Malley's goal of 55 percent of Maryland adults having a two-year or four-year college degree by 2020.
On Dec. 3, the Maryland Association of Community Colleges (MACC) sponsored the first in the nation "Completion Summit" to build on President Obama's White House Summit on Community Colleges. At the MACC Summit, the 16 college presidents pledged to collectively increase degrees awarded by 7,300 by 2025. These additional degrees, combined with a significant increase in the number of community college students who transfer to public and private four year institutions (including those within USM), will make a substantial contribution toward achieving the 55 percent goal.
You also note that Maryland's economy requires a large number of people with degrees in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) and related fields. It is important to remember that community colleges are an important source of STEM bachelor's degree graduates through transfer agreements such as the recently completed Associate of Science in Engineering degree. In addition, not all STEM-related occupations require a bachelor's degree or higher. Community college graduates are a critical part of the STEM work force in areas such as health care and cyber security, among others.
Community colleges in Maryland serve over 150,000 students in credit programs and an additional 275,000 in work force-related continuing education certificate programs. Over half of all Maryland residents who attend college in Maryland do so at a community college. Over 85 percent of all community college graduates remain in Maryland after completing their studies.
As you stated, it is important that the governor and the legislature develop a broad vision for economic development in Maryland. That vision must also include the vital role of Maryland's community colleges in preparing all Marylanders to participate in the knowledge-based global economy.
H. Clay Whitlow, Annapolis
The writer is executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Colleges.