Nearly 40 years ago, Michael Brown, a Grafton native, left Lorain County Community College three credits short of earning his associate degree before transferring to The Ohio State University. And although he went on to a very successful career that included working in the administration of President Ronald Reagan, that failure to obtain an LCCC degree always nagged at him and he never returned to campus.
That was all rectified this year when Brown, now the president of Barrick Gold of North America in Nevada, was awarded his associate of arts degree at LCCC’s 2018 commencement ceremony in May.
“I think that is why I never returned. I had not persisted,” says Brown, who went on to earn a bachelor’s degree at The Ohio State University and an MBA from George Washington University. “But I look back, and most of my life trajectories were launched here at Lorain County Community College.”
He says the community college experience is invaluable.
“Graduates of community colleges come out of that experience much more determined, much more focused and much tougher,” Brown says.
Brown’s chance meeting with LCCC President Marcia Ballinger, Ph.D., at a meeting of the Association of Community College trustees in Nevada led Ballinger to invite him to speak at the college.
When Brown addressed the class of 2018, the largest in the college’s history, he talked about both the diversity and likeness among them. Like 45 percent of the graduating class of 2018, Brown was also a first-generation college student. And like many of those in the audience, he was from a working-class family.
That connection, coupled with Brown’s advocacy for community colleges, inspired him to make a long-term commitment to the college by establishing the Michael J. Brown Discovery Scholarship and Learning Community. The scholarship will provide first-generation college students with a robust educational experience at LCCC.
Scholars will receive a guided cultural, career, leadership and community service experience that supports academic success. The goal is to prepare them to make a meaningful impact as they discover who they are and what they can achieve.
Each year, four students — with at least one from Brown’s alma mater, Midview High School — will be awarded two-year scholarships. And as part of the learning community experience, Karin Hooks, Ph.D., LCCC professor in Arts and Humanities and a first-generation college graduate, will provide mentorship.
Brown also plans to make guest appearances in students’ online learning community, offering his perspective and challenging them to dig deeper.
Community college advocate
Brown is an advocate for community college education and in 2014 served on the Nevada Legislature’s Interim Study Committee on Community Colleges. He says community colleges are a great resource for students just getting their start and for those making mid-life changes.
“That takes a lot of motivation to show up on campus in your 40s or 50s to say, ‘I need to get retrained in something,” he says. “It’s hard to identify what a traditional community college student looks like, because they have to juggle class schedules with jobs and family commitments. There may be remedial needs to address. To get through a community college requires a lot more resilience.”
He says that toughness prepares students for a changing world.
“Community colleges are really the first responders, moving the quickest to address changes in the workforce,” he says. “There’s really no place like a community college, where you’re going to have faculty as focused on your success.”
LCCC’s Early College High School program celebrates 10th graduating class
Among those graduating from LCCC in spring 2018 were 96 students who earned both their high school diploma and their associate degree through LCCC’s Early College High School program. The program, celebrating its 10th graduating class, makes college a reality for low-income, first-generation college students.
Among them is Riley Figueroa, who graduated with both an associate of arts degree and an associate of science degree, and is now attending Colorado College to major in biology.
“Coming from a poor family, I have seen my grandparents work two or three jobs at a time to keep things going,” says Figueroa, the first in her family to earn a college degree. “I want to be able to not only provide for my own family, but also to help other people who struggle to make ends meet.”
Students participate at no cost to themselves, allowing them to earn an associate degree debt-free and greatly reduce the total cost of earning a bachelor’s degree. In the program’s first 10 years, 473 graduates have earned more than 30,000 college credits and saved more than $14 million on college tuition. And more than 97 percent of ECHS graduates go on to pursue a bachelor’s degree or additional associate degree.
Figueroa says the close connections between faculty and staff helped her and others succeed.
“I knew that everyone who works in the Early College High School program would give me whatever support I needed,” says Figueroa.