The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Lorenson selected to lead Rural Community College Alliance


Ian Minielly/Daily Globe

JIM LORENSON, Gogebic Community College president, taps away at his computer on Wednesday afternoon. A quote from Walt Disney is attached to the wall, "The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing."


Ironwood - Gogebic Community College is a leader in the rural community college ranks nationwide, according to school President Jim Lorenson. Lorenson was selected to lead the Rural Community College Alliance, comprised of about 650 rural community colleges. Lorenson said a rural community college in the southwest and the southeast and the upper Midwest will all have striking similarities, once you account for the regional demographics.

A rural CC is likely located in an economically depressed area, with less than ideal broadband capacity, serving a community with higher than national average poverty levels, with students that require significant financial aid that may commute as much as an hour to the school. With these common restrictions, rural CCs are still asked to either train students to transfer to a four year school or to enter a workforce that is likely to differ demographically from their hometown.

Lorenson accepted the position with the RCCA understanding these common challenges, while also preparing students for a future that is not like today. Lorenson said he does not need to reinvent the wheel as intelligent and capable people have been making rural CCs work for their communities for decades, he just needs to provide capable people the tools to do their best.

Representing rural CCs has taken Lorenson to Washington D.C. - twice in the last year - the first time he visited because discussions were under way regarding the Farm Bill and rural schools and students are directly impacted by elements of the Farm Bill and he wanted to make sure he delivered a message on behalf of the rural schools that were impacted by the vote.

The second and more recent trip was to meet with Betsy DeVos, secretary of education. Lorenson said DeVos spoke for about five minutes and then listened as Lorenson and others described the conditions of rural CCs and how they are often in areas forgotten by the federal government. DeVos stayed longer than planned in the meeting before she had to run and then had her first deputy sit in and listen to the plight of rural schools.

One element of the discussion with DeVos Lorenson took away, was her desire to remove some of the federal weight that created overhead and duplication issues for the schools. Lorenson said he pointed out how federal and state reporting requirements ask for almost the same thing, but they want the information in different formats and if they could use a single reporting format for states and federal regulators it would free up a significant amount of time and resources.

In talking about GCC specifically, Lorenson said they revamped their marketing to students and parents - which has resulted in increased enrollment. GCC provides quality education and recreational opportunities to students and they needed their marketing campaign to accurately capture these dynamics.

In the near future, GCC will offer a civil engineering program and forestry program designed to prepare students for follow on education opportunities and the immediate workforce. Lorenson described how GCC has partnered with Allied Health to provide a four year nursing degree without having to leave GCC. Three years of the nursing program are done on campus, while the fourth year is done online.

Lorenson does not just sell the western U.P. to prospective students and parents, he lives it. Lorenson and his family find outdoor opportunities through all four seasons. In particular Lorenson described his love of fishing and hunting and that he likes to snowshoe with his wife.

The particular challenge institutions of higher education face across the national board is preparing students for jobs and problems that do not exist today. To prepare the students for the uncertain future, Lorenson emphasizes teaching students how to think, work in a team either co-located or located in separate locations and how to identify relevant information in a swath of data. If schools can do those three things, graduates are prepared as best as possible for whatever changes may come in the future.

"Technology is a tool, it is appropriate to use and students have to be comfortable using it, as change is inevitable," said Lorenson.

GCC is on track to launch their baseball and softball programs in 2018, which will give the school four sports. Lorenson said they have been receiving inquiries from both prospective male and female students that are interested in playing ball at GCC. The incorporation of these two new programs further enable GCC to help students achieve their goals, whatever those may be.


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