Marcia Ballinger embraces LCCC’s role as an economic driver for the region

As Marcia Ballinger, Ph.D., strolls the campus of Lorain County Community College, it’s hard to miss her smile.

It could be the joy she feels on another unseasonably warm, sunny January day in Northeast Ohio. More likely, it’s her sense of pride at all the talented, creative minds that have found their way to LCCC — the college has seen a 94 percent increase in the number of people earning degrees since 2011, and 61 percent of Lorain County high graduates start their college experience there. These numbers no doubt contributed to the institution being named the top community college in the country for Excellence in Student Success by the American Association of Community Colleges in 2018.

“I view us as the portal of opportunity,” says Ballinger, LCCC’s president. “Every student’s dream matters. So every day, we have to make sure that not only do we keep that dream alive for the students of today and tomorrow, but also for future generations.”

Working with business

This effort has evolved to include a closer partnership with the regional business community. 

“We’re expected to be flexible, agile and nimble partners with those employers, whether that’s advanced manufacturing, health care, biomedical — whatever the industry sector is,” Ballinger says. “We need to not only meet them where they are to help create that talent pipeline and solutions for what they need, but also work with them on future development.”

Community colleges have been instrumental in providing new programs and curriculum that establish a baseline of skill sets related to advanced technologies being implemented in the workforce, says Matt Hlavin, CEO at Thogus, a plastic injection molding company based in Avon Lake.

“There has been a gap for years between the business community and educational institutions,” Hlavin says. “It is very taxing for employers, particularly small businesses, to have to retrain new employees upon hiring. LCCC is a forward-thinking educational institution that listens to our needs and has been a critical resource for preparing students to enter the workforce with the skill sets we need.”

No one knows how the future will unfold, and new technologies, as of now still confined to the imagination of the next great innovator or entrepreneur, await. The goal at LCCC is to create an environment where students can become those innovators and succeed in the workplace.

Driving innovation

One of LCCC’s signature programs is the University Partnership, which allows students to earn bachelor’s and master’s degree from four-year universities from LCCC’s campus. Ballinger helped develop the program, then enrolled to earn her MBA from Kent State University.

It’s a program that was desperately needed, Ballinger says.

“We were the largest county in the state of Ohio without public access to a four-year university,” Ballinger says. “Our educational attainment at the bachelor’s degree level was the lowest among the counties in Northeast Ohio. So we created this concept, passed a tax levy in 1995 and started offering the program in 1998.”

After earning their bachelor’s degree, students can remain in Lorain County while earning more advanced degrees. 

“We provide the first two or three years, then the universities provide the final courses, all on this campus,” says Ballinger. “I had the great opportunity to be in one of the first classes. That gave me a sense of the adult student experience, something that I’ve held very close to me.”

It was a significant step in strengthening the college’s role as an economic engine in Northeast Ohio. 

Another pivotal moment occurred in 2001 when the Patsie C. Campana Sr. Engineering and Development Center — today the Campana Center for Ideation and Invention — opened. The facility recently underwent a 10,000-square-foot expansion. 

“In the past three months since the CCII grand opening, we have had more than 12 companies, both publicly and privately owned, tour and/or enter into discussions with LCCC and CCII seeking support, ideas, consultation, or simply wanting to understand what LCCC has to offer,” says Bob Campana, CEO at Campana Capital and son of Patsie. “As Northeast Ohio companies become aware of the capabilities and competencies at LCCC and CCII, we can support them by providing prototyping and parts manufacturing using digital and conventional manufacturing techniques such as additive manufacturing (3D printing), subtractive manufacturing (CNC machining), welding, laser cutting and water jet cutting, to name a few.”

LCCC has also partnered with local industry to launch an Applied Science in Digital Fabrication Technologies degree that prepares students for these and other related fields, and teaches tasks such as prototyping, proof-of-concept exploration and rapid tooling.

Ballinger says the Campana family “has truly epitomized entrepreneurship and innovation” in its effort to support the college and its role in the community.

“They’ve been stalwart supporters of the college,” she says. “The center really takes it to new heights and new levels. It’s a launchpad for students in the community to explore, experiment and find a fit for their talents.”

Flipping the paradigm

Just as businesses often work with customers to keep up with their changing needs, LCCC is carrying on a continuous dialogue with the business community to achieve similar goals.

“We’ve had to flip our own paradigms in terms of how we educate by having employers at the table designing with us, versus the old models, which we’ve done now for six decades,” Ballinger says. “It was a very intensive, community-based process to look at what the preferred future is for what we’re trying to create. We used a process called VUCA, where you look at volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.”

By doing so, Ballinger is confident the college is creating a bright future for itself and for its students.

“But getting there while navigating constant change will require a flexible approach,” Ballinger said at the CCII grand opening. “We are living in a VUCA world. That’s why we approached our visioning process with strategic foresight, knowing the century that we’re in now is best described as the age of uncertainty, a century where rapid change has become the norm.”

LCCC is talking to businesses about things like automation, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and blockchain, and exploring how to work these new technologies into its curriculum.

“Four years ago, we weren’t talking about blockchain or about big data or about the Industrial Internet of Things,” Ballinger says. “We have degree programs in all of those areas now, again with employers at the table driving their development.”

When it comes to automation, the college is seeking to create a sense of opportunity rather than fear. Instead of worrying about being replaced by a robot, Ballinger wants students to be excited about the chance to build new robot machinery.

“How do we continue to teach individuals to be able to work for themselves?” Ballinger says. “We have been laser focused on more individualized services to ensure that we are getting students to more meaningful credentials and degrees in shorter amounts of time. We want them employed in more meaningful careers, where they are earning greater salaries for both themselves and their families.”

Launch success

LCCC values its position as a launching pad into the workforce for students of all ages across Northeast Ohio. In addition to the University Partnership and the Campana Center, programs such as the Great Lakes Innovation and Development Enterprise (GLIDE), Innovation Fund Northeast Ohio and NEO LaunchNET aim to spawn more creative, innovative minds. And the college’s Fab Lab, a 5,000-square-foot makerspace “where people can make just about anything” was the first Fab Lab outside of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the U.S. when it opened in 2005.

The college is counting on voters to approve an operating levy renewal on the March 17 ballot that would sustain support from the existing 1.8 mills and add 0.5 mills, an additional investment of less than $1.50 per month per $100,000 in property value.

“It’s critically important for Northeast Ohio to have a talent pipeline for our employers that is aligned,” Ballinger says. “We need to continue to envision and explore what the future can be and not be bound by building off of the past. We need to stay focused on what we can be and what we need to be.”

Robert Lando, CEO of AgriNomix, says his company has hired several graduates of LCCC’s Automation Engineering Technologies program who were trained in the skills his company — a supplier to the North American horticulture industry based in Oberlin — needs.

“Those students have grown with us, and they made an enormous contribution to our company,” says Lando. “LCCC has invested in very knowledgeable faculty and paired them with cutting-edge motor control centers and today’s sophisticated robots in order to provide students with valuable and applicable training. There are high-paying jobs waiting for grads from LCCC’s programs — we need more student to take advantage of these amazing programs.”

Thogus’s Hlavin says substantial progress is already being made.

“The role community colleges are playing in evolving the future workforce to prepare them is already having a positive impact,” he says. “Long term, this will enable companies to remain competitive, as well as prepare their students to make more money and build a stronger economy.”

The File

NAME:
Marcia Ballinger, Ph.D.

TITLE:
President

COMPANY:
Lorain County Community College

Education: Bachelor’s degree, journalism, Indiana University of Pennsylvania; MBA, Kent State University (LCCC University Partnership); doctorate in education – community college leadership, Walden University.

Who are some of your mentors?
I would say that certainly, having been here for 28 years, I have had mentors here including my predecessor, Roy Church, as well as a number of community college leaders. My dad was an educator and my mother instilled in me that hard work ethic. I’ve been very fortunate to have worked within an organization for almost three decades and to have been partnered with so many incredible, amazing people who inspire me every day. But at the end of the day, it’s our students and graduates who truly have been my inspiration.

Local success stories:
Our two new mayors of our largest cities in Lorain County, Elyria Mayor Frank Whitfield and Lorain Mayor Jack Bradley, as well as State Rep. Joe Miller, are alumni of Lorain County Community College.

Pivotal dates in LCCC history:

1966 — LCCC moves to its current location, making it the first community college in Ohio with a permanent campus. The campus opened with three buildings: Engineering Technologies, Mechanical Services, and Physical and Social Sciences.

2004 — LCCC enrollment tops the 10,000 mark in the fall semester for the first time in the college’s history. That year it was named one of the state’s fastest-growing colleges.

2011 — President Barack Obama endorses the start of LCCC’s Innovation Fund America, a program in concert with the American Association of Community Colleges Virtual Incubator Network that is intended to equip other community colleges with the tools and support to implement this program to stimulate high-tech entrepreneurship in their communities.

2016 — LCCC Community Learning Center opens at Lorain High School.