The Reality of Free Community College in New Jersey
Steve Adubato sits down with Aaron Fichtner, President, New Jersey Council for County Colleges, to discuss the reality of free community college in New Jersey, what's driving collaboration between two and four year schools and the future of higher education in the state.
"Welcome to State of Affairs. I'm Steve Adubato. We're coming to you from the Agnes Varis NJTV Studio in Newark. We are pleased to welcome Dr. Aaron Fichtner, who is President of the New Jersey Council of County Colleges. Good to see you Doctor. Great to be here. Thank you. Tell folks exactly what the council is? So the Council of County Colleges works to strengthen and support our 19 community colleges. We have 19 community colleges across our state that serve over 300,000 students a year. A great, important impact. And the purpose of the council is to support that effort, to make sure we've got the strongest colleges we can have. You know, it's a state issue, but it's also a national issue, talking about community colleges. There's a whole debate going on... we'll get to in a second about whether, in fact, community college should be free. We'll do that in a moment. But what is Vision 2028? So, our colleges have been working together over the last 10 months to talk about what the future looks like. We know the world is changing dramatically, the needs of employers is changing, you know, jobs are being created, whole new occupations, new industries... we have to make sure that we're prepared for that. We have a strong foundation to build on, but we need to make sure that we're on the cutting edge of our community colleges to make sure that we're there for the state, for the long term, and for our students. What needs to be changed about the community colleges in the state in order to be there? Well I think there's a number of things that we need to do and want to do. The first is we need to redouble our effort to build strong partnerships between high schools, community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, driven by the needs of employers and our key industries. To make sure the students, no matter if they're a high school student or they are a returning adult, they've got a pathway to a credential or a degree that gets them a good job. I'm curious about this. We've had a lot of... we have a lot collaborations, partnerships, with institutions of higher learning on the four-year level, and there's a lot of talk about collaboration between two and... two year institutions and four year institutions. What is driving all this collaboration? When I... for years, I thought you were just competitors. You didn't want people going there, they didn't want people going there. But now you're collaborating and someone goes to a two-year school and then you're making it easier to go to a four-year school after they go to one of your places..."