By SARA ARTHURS
It’s been almost a year since Steve Robinson launched his campaign on Twitter to end community college stigma. Since then, the Owens Community College president has carried this message to other parts of the country. But he’s not done yet.
When he became president of the college, already social media-savvy, the public relations team at Owens encouraged him to get a Twitter account and a blog, and to think about an issue he was passionate about. Robinson did, but at first didn’t feel like he could advocate for these issues better than anyone else.
Then, on Feb. 8, he realized what he felt passionate about. Without consulting anyone in public relations, he just tweeted “We are proud to be a community college. We’re not going to change our name; we’re going to change your MIND.” Among the hashtags he followed it with was #EndCCstigma.
That hashtag, he found, “really tapped a nerve.” He said it resonated because “other people are passionate about it.”
He said there are about 1,100 community colleges in the country, so there are a lot of stories.
Robinson has been on television in Kansas and Pennsylvania talking about the stigma against community colleges. A story in the Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune was picked up by the Associated Press. Robinson also has produced a podcast on the topic.
Robinson said #EndCCstigma has become a national discussion but is “associated with our college” — to the extent that a new employee told him it was one reason they wanted to work at Owens.
Robinson has spent his entire career in community colleges, and said the public perception of them involves more stigma than other colleges. He said some of this may be because they’re relatively new — most two-year colleges were founded in the 1960s.
Robinson has been at Owens for five years, two and a half as president, and as provost before that. But he has spent his entire career in community colleges. He holds a doctorate in English and was a professor before he was an administrator.
When he was working on his master’s degree, he accompanied a friend who was teaching at a community college — and it changed his life. Robinson said he can still close his eyes and see the classroom’s acoustic tile.
“It was unlike any classroom I’d ever been in,” he said.
He was used to colleges where all the students were the same age, but at this community college he encountered people older than his parents.
“There were people from every walk of life,” he said.
He realized he wanted to teach English at a community college and began shaping his own education and career plans with this in mind.
Robinson previously taught at a community college in Flint, Michigan. There, he encountered a diverse student body. And every single student he worked with? They weren’t there because “somebody had expected them to go to college” — they were there because they, themselves, wanted to be.
Robinson said he’s encountered a lot of students who were the first generation of their family to go to college and those who have struggled with adversity.
But Robinson said people may not consider a community college “because of public perception.”
“We really can’t afford to be snobby” when it comes to certificates and two-year degrees, Robinson said. And, for a lot of people, a community college is a “doorway to the middle class,” he said.
His theory behind #EndCCstigma includes three points: that there really is a stigma against community colleges; that it’s “completely culturally constructed”; and that the only way to change it is to call it out directly.
And Robinson said that, unlike some issues a person might advocate for, “There’s no pro-stigma contingent… nobody lining up on the other side.”
Robinson said the stigma comes from ignorance. A lot of lawmakers and opinion leaders simply don’t have much experience with community colleges.
And community colleges don’t have a football team, or the dorms, the way four-year colleges do. Robinson said community colleges are not for everyone, but neither is going “away to school” and living in a dorm.
Robinson has talked about his campaign at high schools, and said Owens has strong relationships locally with Findlay City Schools. Owens also works closely with the University of Findlay in ensuring that students who start at Owens can get their credits transferred to UF. Robinson said Hancock County is “a really collaborative community.”
Robinson encouraged high school students and their parents to set aside what they’ve heard about community colleges and, instead, “Take an hour and go there.”
And he pointed out that a community college graduate just might save your life. In addition to nursing, a program he mentioned at Owens, he said most EMTs and other first responders come from community colleges.
Arthurs: 419-427-8494 Send an E-mail to Sara Arthurs