April is Community College Month, time designated to help spread the word about why community colleges matter, how
Southeast Community College serves communities within our service area, and why public support for SCC is more
important than ever.
We sat down with Dr. Paul Illich, SCC president, to ask him about his experience as a community college student and
the importance of community colleges in the higher education landscape. Dr. Illich started his educational journey
at Blinn College, a community college in Brenham, Texas.
What made you decide to attend a community college?
As a first-generation student, I had a limited understanding of what it would take to attend a college or university following high school. I also had limited financial resources. Fortunately, I received a scholarship to run cross country and track for a community college in Texas.
How did your community college experience prepare you for transferring to a four-year college and ultimately your career?
I received the highest quality of instruction in many key areas, including English, mathematics, computer programming, and psychology while attending community college. After graduating with an Associate of Arts degree, I transferred to a four-year university and eventually completed my Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology/Behavioral Neuroscience at Texas A&M University. My community college experience provided an excellent background, which I built upon throughout my educational journey.
My community college experience has played a tremendous role in my career. I pursued an administrative role at a Texas community college based on my passion for the open-access mission of community colleges. I accepted the position of president of Southeast Community College in 2014 based on this same passion. Community colleges have the noble goal of ensuring everyone, irrespective of their circumstances, has access to the life-changing benefits of higher education.
What are the benefits of attending a community college?
There are many benefits of attending a community college, including affordability, small class sizes, high quality instruction, and accessible faculty and staff. Another significant benefit of community colleges is that they typically have diverse student populations, including first-generation students, returning students, recent high school students, minorities, low-income students, and many other underserved populations. This diversity provides all students with the opportunity to learn about and experience different views, ideas and beliefs.
What is the role of a community college in the community/area it serves?
Community colleges have local missions to meet the specific employer, community and student needs within their respective service area. Southeast Community College has an 11-member elected Board of Governors. The Board sets policy and approves annual budgets to meet the specific needs within their communities. To address these local needs, the Board has local property tax authority to support both operational and capital priorities.
What are the future plans for Southeast Community College?
SCC’s future plans are embedded in its 2020-24 Strategic Plan, which was launched in July 2020. Specific initiatives within this plan include:
How Important are community/corporate partnerships to SCC’s success?
Strong collaboration with our industry partners is vital to the success of SCC. We work very closely with these partners to ensure our curriculum aligns with the skills they need today and in the future. With a tremendous skilled workforce gap in southeast Nebraska, SCC is expanding its capacity to produce graduates via additional facilities and strategies designed to increase the pipeline of graduates. SCC has more than 60 career/technical programs designed to meet employer needs across many industry sectors, including health sciences, manufacturing, welding, construction technologies, transportation, agriculture, business, information technology, and culinary.
What advice do you have for prospective students as they choose a college?
I encourage prospective students to consider making the community college their first choice irrespective of their long-term educational or career plans. I recommend that they visit SCC and explore the many programs by talking with advisors, faculty, staff, and current or former SCC students. If a student is thinking about a technical career, SCC is an excellent first choice with more than 60 career/technical program options. SCC also is an excellent first choice for a student who wants to pursue a four-year degree. Completing your first two years at SCC will ensure you will have less loan debt when you earn your bachelor’s degree. Starting at SCC also ensures that you will have dedicated instructors and smaller class sizes. SCC has been modernizing over the past several years to ensure students have the highest quality learning experience at a very affordable cost. We want to make SCC the first choice for all students.
Anything else you would like to add?
Everyone has a place at SCC. We hope that you choose SCC and embrace the life-changing benefits of higher education.