The Dr. Roy A. Church University Center which holds the University Partnership office. Oscar Rosado | Editor-in-Chief

Oscar Rosado

The Campus’ University Partnership celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, and many have played a role in its success to help students grow beyond the Associate’s Degree. 
LCCC President, Marcia Ballinger, Ph.D., plays an important role in the partnership and said she was a part of the creation of it.
The drive-in its conception was how to make a program both affordable and close to home for those who wish to stay locally.
According to the census data circa 1993, Lorain County had the highest percentage of adults with an Associate’s Degree in the North East Ohio area, but the Bachelor’s Degree attainment level was last, with only about 14% of adults 25 and older had a Bachelor’s Degree. The majority of the population had only received a high school diploma.
The economic future of Lorain County was becoming more dependent on high skilled jobs that required an increased educational level. The campus began to look for an innovative approach to bring degrees beyond the Associate’s Degree, according to Ballinger.
“If we can’t offer the four-year degree perhaps we can partner with universities where we can create a model that would look at what degrees would be in most demand by our county’s residents as well as by employers in our region and can partner with the universities to actually bring the program and courses to the campus,” said Ballinger.
The campus had one example to look towards in the model building process in Macomb Community College in Michigan, which had a very similar situation as Lorain did. They had created a university center that provided a similar service as the university partnership. Ballinger recalls having trips in the early 1990s and that had sparked how LCCC could do something similar. Ballinger said they learned what they could from the model, and that was the origin of the concept of the partnership.
At its origins, the campus recruited the first five universities – Cleveland State University, University of Akron, Kent State University, Bowling Green State University, and Ashland University, according to Ballinger.
“It really was a very community-driven approach to creating the university partnership,” assures Ballinger.
Ballinger had graduated from the partnership, “I am a graduate of the University Partnership myself. I went through Kent State University and I graduated from there with my MBA. I know first hand the great value of what a wonderful resource it is to our community.”.
According to Ballinger, LCCC is the only community college that offers the University Partnership in all of Ohio, and it is the best value for a Bachelor’s Degree in the entire state.
“It’s really driven by the demand from our community, from students, and from employers’ needs and I think it’s just become part of the fabric,” said Ballinger.
Ballinger said the partnership would “forever intertwined because that educational continuum does not stop at the Associate’s Degree, so I see them co-existing in perpetuity.”

From a U.P. graduate 

Someone who has benefited from the University Partnership includes CEO and President of United Way of Greater Lorain County, Ryan Aroney.
When Aroney pursued his MBA, he did it through U.P. He graduated with an MBA in Business Administration, through Lake Erie College.
“It was really convenient and helpful. It was important to me that I can do something in person, I really preferred to learn that way and a lot of the options that I had would’ve been online or would involve driving a long time,” said Aroney.
“It turned out to be a great program. I just graduated in May, and already I can tell the benefits of having that in the few months since then. I have gone back and reference materials in my job.”

From Brenda Pongracz

The one responsible for its day-to-day operations is Dean of the Division of Arts and Humanities Brenda Pongracz, Ed.D.
“I oversee all the partnership agreements and make sure students have pathways to transfer both here, through the U.P. and also if they choose to transfer out and go to a different school and work with our transfer center.”
Pongracz has been with the partnership since Mar 2020. Due to the timing because of the COVID-19 lockdown, Pongracz had to adjust. “It was interesting. It was a learning curve to do all that virtually, but luckily I knew some of the Ins and outs.”
According to Pongracz, the number of enrolled students in Spring 2021 was 931 students among the University Partnership agreements. In the last graduating class of 2021, there were 365 students graduating with the partnership and the overall total number of graduates is 6870 total graduates since the start.
“Despite the pandemic, this past spring was our largest graduating class,” said Pongracz. She added, “That was a great surprise. We were very happy that students were able to persist and complete their degree, despite the hardships of having to go remote and do things differently and I’m glad they were able to accomplish that.”
Pongracz said there are more opportunities for students beyond an Associate’s Degree. “There is a real need in Lorain County for degrees beyond the Associate’s Degree. We are the only large county in Ohio that doesn’t have a public four-year institution so there really is a need within Lorain County to give people an option to complete that higher degree, and I think the University Partnership really fulfills that need.”
Pongracz said she encourages students to come to their events and meet with their partners and explore their options and not stop at the Associate’s Degree.
“There is a lot more you can do with a Bachelor’s and even more you can do with a Master’s, so I would like to encourage students to be lifelong learners and take advantage of the opportunities we offer through the University Partnership,” said Pongracz.

From Jonathan Dryden

The University Partnership falls under the preview of Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs and University Partnership Jonathan Dryden, Ph.D.
“My role is to help facilitate conversations that lead to the development of partnership programs. For example, I may schedule a meeting to invite the provost of another university to come and bring his or her team with them, then we bring our team and we brainstorm what are some possibilities.”
Dryden says where there is a need in the workforce, “Where is the need for workers and people in careers that provide a good high paying career, and explore a partnership program that would lead a student to a Bachelor’s Degree that could lead them into that high paying career?” 
According to Dryden, the COVID-19 Pandemic has forced them to be creative. “It’s forced us to improve the way we deliver courses online. Ultimately that is going to benefit students even after the pandemic because we’ll be able to deliver courses in a variety of ways and make them more accessible to students who may have complicated schedules. It provides greater flexibility for students, and that’s one of the outcomes of the pandemic.”
According to Dryden, the program has helped the number of degrees given rise.
“The impact of the university partnership on the educational degree and Bachelor’s Degree attainment in the county has been significant. The educational attainment rate has risen 75% since that time, and we know that the University Partnership played a significant role in that increase.”
Dryden says it’s a very exciting time to be in this role in LCCC.
At present, the campus is partnered with 14 schools, Cleveland State University, University of Akron, Kent State University, Bowling Green State University, Ashland University, Lake Erie College, The Ohio State University, University of Cincinnati, Ohio University, Youngstown State University, Miami University, Hiram College, Western Governors University, and the University of Toledo.