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When we entered a new decade in January, we had no way of knowing what the year would bring. In fact, it’s almost comical now to think back on the challenges we predicted or anticipated at that time.

Little did we know we would be navigating the complexities of a global pandemic, staring down record unemployment numbers and holding a nationwide discussion about race of historic proportions. The circumstances, and what they have revealed, are challenging us on a societal and personal level.

By nature and position, I am inclined to meet a challenge — or a portfolio of challenges, in this case — with a practical solution. My bias toward this one may be obvious, but I keep coming back to the reality that Parkland College can and will play a key role in our community’s stabilization and rebuilding efforts in the months and years ahead.

In fact, moments like this one are why public investment in community colleges has been such a prudent decision.

The authors of the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890 aptly outline the societal and economic benefits of providing education past high school on a large scale. At the time, open access to higher education, regardless of race or class, was a radical concept. However, the case for more educated communities presented some undeniable benefits: a strong workforce pipeline, thriving families, economic prosperity and a populace with a deeper understanding of society’s challenges and how to participate in meeting those challenges.

A few decades later, this community invested in its own community college, and Parkland College opened its doors to students in 1967. Today, this investment takes the form of dual-credit courses for high school students, adult education and GED courses, short- and longer-term career training and high-quality transfer programs. People come through our doors and their lives are changed forever, for the better.

For those who have lost a job due to the pandemic, the good news is that Parkland College can provide career training with a recognized academic credential to go alongside it, ensuring that your training meets industry standards and is protected if you decide to pursue another degree down the road.

If you didn’t graduate high school, new bridge programs are available to accelerate your entry into our training programs. Individualized career services are also available to help you land that first job.

Recent high school graduates have been especially affected this year. As they look to the fall, many young adults and their parents are having critical conversations around the dinner table about whether to go away to school or stay local, and whether online education is worth a high price tag.

To them, I say: As you make these personal decisions, please know that you stand in good company if you decide to come to Parkland this fall. We’ll help you get to where you’re heading.

Here’s a little-known fact: Many students attend Parkland College for no cost, due to their financial aid eligibility and access to workforce investment funds. Additionally, for many students enrolling this fall, support from Parkland’s CARES Act Program can cover what traditional financial aid can’t, with extended awards of up to $500 covering living expenses for those hardest hit by this pandemic.

So, whether you’re a student whose plans have just become a little shakier, are looking for a new career or are ready to finally pursue higher education, we might have the solution you’re looking for.

In a time that challenges us to dig deep and become better versions of ourselves, you may find that your journey leads you to Parkland. We’re ready for you.

Tom Ramage is the president of Champaign’s Parkland College.