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Camden County College establishes path for nontraditional and lower income students

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Don Borden, president, Camden Comminity College.
Don Borden, president, Camden Comminity College. - ()

For a good number of students, four-year private universities are not within their financial reach, yet they still have a dire need for additional education and training.

Camden County College President Donald Borden is keenly aware of what’s at stake for students who can’t attain education after high school. “If students don’t get a post-secondary education we’re sentencing them to poverty,” Borden said. “[For] many minority students, to incarceration.”

Borden, 62, was appointed as Camden County College’s fifth president last year by the college’s board of trustees and took over the position in July. He inherited a five-year low in enrollment and massive turnover of key faculty positions as many professors aged into retirement or moved to other institutions.

However, he saw the school’s circumstances as an opportunity.

“When I look at leadership here, I want people who are 100 percent focused on our involvement in [the student’s] success story,” Borden said.

Borden acts as the head administrator for Camden County College with roughly 106 full-time faculty and approximately 350 adjunct professors. He’s also the face of the college, securing partnerships with other schools and representing the school at higher education meetings across the state.

Camden County College draws many students who are low income or nontraditional, returning to school to increase their education or who hold part-time jobs.

The school has an enrollment of roughly 12,000 students, 7,000 of whom attend part-time. Courses are offered at $107 per credit, or nearly $6,500 for an associate’s degree. Roughly 60 percent of the student body receive some form of financial aid.

Across the country, county colleges have poor retention rates, which are measured according to whether a student continues at the same institution from one semester to the next; and completion rates, measured by whether a full-time student completed an associate’s degree within three years of enrollment.

Camden County College has a 60 percent retention rate, above the national average of 57 percent, and an 18 percent completion rate, below the national average of 31 percent for schools similar to Camden.

Borden said the method of arriving at those statistics does a disservice to his school, as many Camden students transfer to complete their degrees at other institutions with specified programs such as Rutgers-Camden’s nursing program or Stockton’s engineering degree. And transferring students to other schools, is a part of Borden’s vision for ensuring student success. In many ways Camden County College offers students the opportunity to get a foothold on the higher education ladder before pursuing higher goals.

Borden said his background in K through 12 education has informed his perspective that many college students require additional assistance. “It’s my view that we need to be increasingly more intrusive in helping students [overcome] issues [so they pursue] opportunities,” he said.

According to Borden, roughly 40 percent of community college students face emotional health issues, most commonly anxiety and depression. Many students passing through Camden County College were not academically successful in high school or don’t have an understanding of how to work within the constraints of a higher education institution. 

While Camden County College offers academic counseling, it goes beyond the standard accommodations. At a typical college or university, if a student doesn’t show up for class three times, their grades may suffer but the absence does not trigger action on the part of the administration. At Camden County College, however, faculty will reach out to an absent student and check to see if they need assistance, such as with a car breaking down or a lack of access to transportation.

While the increased supervision could be seen as “nannying,” Borden rejects the term and calls his school “nurturing.”

“If students aren’t ready, they’re not going to be successful,” Borden said, adding that a growing number of his colleagues have adopted the view that students need more assistance, not less.

For many nontraditional students, such as veterans returning to the workforce or students from other countries, they may have needs unique to their situation. Camden County College has made an effort to create “guided pathways,” to help students understand exactly what is needed to get a degree. It also has expanded the number of high school students who earn college credit before applying to college.

While not all students will pursue a four-year degree, Camden County College offers a partnership called “Bridging the Gap,” with other schools to give students a path toward a bachelor’s degree. The program was conceived by various schools to offer courses on CCC’s campus that can easily transfer to other institutions, but under Borden a financial aid relief package was added to the program.

One of these partnerships, with Rutgers-Camden, offers families making less than $60,000 a year the opportunity to have all their tuition covered by a grant from the school. A similar program is offered to families making between $60,001 and $100,000, which will cover 50 percent of their tuition.

The program supports five different bachelor’s programs through Rutgers, including business administration, criminal justice, psychology, political science and a general liberal arts studies. Borden said he’s open to expanding the program to include more.

Camden County College students can also be on set on a pathway to Stockton or Rowan University.

Transferring students is an important component of CCC’s initiative to ensure student success, but the school also provides its own opportunities to place students into well-paying jobs.

More and more students are entering the field of advanced manufacturing, which applies to auto mechanics as well as robotics. In response to the market’s interest in these positions, the college has offered more courses dedicated to training students in AutoCAD, electromechanical work, geometric tolerancing, welding and other advanced manufacturing professions. Students in these programs are sometimes offered positions at Camden-local companies like Holtec. 

These programs offer a road to success that Borden sees as integral to the role of an educational institution. “We have a greater responsibility than what existed a generation ago,” Borden said. “So many of our students face challenges. I want them to embrace the fact that we have a different challenge.”

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Arthur Augustyn

Arthur Augustyn

Arthur Augustyn grew up in Massachusetts and previously covered the video game industry in Los Angeles, city politics in Malibu, California, and local news in Bergen County before working at NJBIZ. He currently covers cannabis, government and tech.

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