Buy Monroe: Applying that Concept to Monroe would Greatly Benefit the County

Any economic growth strategy must include educational attainment. Research shows that urban areas that thrive do so because of educational attainment. That can be no different for Monroe County. Also, fund inflows are positive, while outflows are negative.  My point is simply this: Monroe County is a microcosm of the state and nation, so the higher the educational attainment and the more inflows of funds we have, and less outflows, the more likely it is that we will thrive as a county.  I cannot imagine that there is a single individual in this county who does not want this county to prosper. As the old saying goes, “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

Just a couple of days ago, I attended a Business Leaders for Michigan Forum in Ann Arbor. The goal of this organization is to make Michigan a “Top Ten” state. The data shows that if Michigan were a “Top Ten” state today, 120,000 more Michigan people would be working, income would be $11,000 more per person, and GDP would be $13,000 more per person. Currently, we are ranked 29th, 33rd, and 34th, respectively in the areas above. Michigan is also ranked 31st for an educated workforce and has the 10th oldest population in the nation.

By bringing students, employers, and additional spending to local economies, colleges and universities drive economic growth.  Unfortunately, here are some telling and dismal statistics on where Michigan ranks in higher education:

  • 41st for the average number of career-oriented and/or technical education classes in which public school students are enrolled
  • 31st for share of residents aged 25 to 64 with an associate degree or higher
  • 46th for percent of entering first-year undergraduates from out of state
  • 35th for percent of students tested who met or exceeded the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks in English, reading, mathematics and science
  • 9th highest average debt per college graduate
  • Only 22 percent of students tested were career and college ready

Those numbers are indeed depressing. Fortunately for those of us in Monroe County, we outperform the state in the associate degree and college debt areas. For those who remain in Monroe County for an education, the debt is nowhere near the state average – it is much lower.

We as county need to keep as many young minds here in the county and attract as many to come into our county to be educated at the post-secondary level. Every time we send a young person out-of-county for higher education, we send money out of our county (outflow); every time we bring an individual from out-of-county to be educated here, we have an inflow of funds into our county. All that adds up as it contributes to that multiplier effect. As simplistic as it may seem, this is all part of the economic development/growth equation. The more money we spend in Monroe County, the more jobs are created, the more likely it is for businesses and, therefore, individuals to thrive, contribute to the tax base and raise this county to the next level.

With all that said, “buying Monroe” makes sense to me. Why not buy our education right here in Monroe County at lower cost and hence lower long-term debt? Unfortunately, many choose to buy from out-of-county at higher cost leading to higher debt. As one who wants the best for my county, I would rather spend my hard-earned income in my community. In order for Michigan to become a “Top Ten” state, we in Monroe cannot be left behind. Monroe County must aspire to become a “Top Ten” county. The best way to get there is by supporting higher education in our own county by “buying Monroe”. If not, we will keep falling farther and farther behind.


I have seen poverty, lived in poverty, and been homeless.  I count myself privileged and fortunate to have had the opportunity to obtain an education, an opportunity which my parents did not have. I spent my 5th through 8th grade years in the Washington DC school system. I have heard that the Washington DC school system was/is the worst in the nation – that is part of my background.

As a life-long educator, I know, and the research shows that when higher standards are set for students, they rise to the occasion. As an economics professor at Historically Black Talladega College, I held my students to very high standards and did my very best to ensure that they rose to those standards. I provided extra class sessions, provided extra review sessions, put a supplementary instructor in the classes, tutored my students personally, and walked around the library the night before an examination to assist my students with material they did not understand. Bottom line, I gave them no excuse to fail! Unfortunately, some did. I remember one of my students (Mr. John ‘Y’) saying, “Dr. Quartey, you just care too much. You got to teach this stuff and if they get it, they get it, if they don’t they don’t!” My conscience would not allow me to do that. As an educator, I was more than a teacher, I was a mentor and nurturer to many of my students. One point I always drove home to my students was that they had to take responsibility for their successes and failures. When some failed my class, they would say “Dr. Quartey, I can’t believe you failed me”, to which I would respond, “No, you failed yourself.”

In my over 30 years as an educator, I do not recall missing a day of work because of illness–I really do not. There were many a Friday that I left work sick and was sick all weekend, but when Monday came, I was revitalized and reinvigorated; that is how much I love what I do. This is a service industry, and we must serve our “customers” to the best of our ability.  But I also realize that none of us are beyond reproach and will face criticism no matter what we do.  I have received “nasty mails” and heard unflattering comments (yes, here at MCCC). My consolation is, some of my most critical former students now find me on Facebook and LinkedIn and tell me how much they appreciate how I have positively impacted their lives.  Some are medical doctors, college administrators and professors, lawyers, engineers and many more.  I did my very best to ensure that my students were inspired and motivated, but I could not want it for them more than they wanted it for themselves.

True educators go above and beyond the call of duty and provide their students with opportunities to excel. For me it has never been just a job. This, I am sure, is due to my family background and years working at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). Students at community colleges such as MCCC are just as under-served as many at the HBCUs and MSIs, and must be encouraged to dream, hope, and believe in themselves. We cannot achieve a hundred percent success, but we have to try. Transforming and enriching lives, that is what we do – it is not just a job, it is OUR MISSION!!

A New Week Begins (TGIM)

Thank God it’s Monday (TGIM) of a new week! How many times have you heard that expression? I know I have not, but I use it because I am thankful for another week of new beginnings.  Last week was an eventful (another word for “busy” – a word that I do not like and do not use) week; it’s all a blur now. I am happy to begin another week that I believe will be less eventful.

We began last Monday with our new Board member orientation and went right into a long Board meeting. Throughout the week, we continued to celebrate diversity and concluded Arab-American Month, as our students, Mohammed Karain and Javed Paracha presented here on campus, and also at the Whitman Center. On Wednesday, we celebrated with our best and brightest students at the Honor’s Reception. Thursday, we honored two of our best and brightest faculty, Gary Wilson and Alex Babycz after 45 and 28 years of service respectively. We culminated the work week activities with the 49th Commencement Ceremony, where I witnessed faculty, staff, friends, family and the students themselves beaming with pride as they received their “credentials of economic value.” Indeed we have much to be proud and thankful for here at MCCC as we continue to transform and enrich lives in our community.  On Saturday, we were involved in the Monroe Rotary 4th Annual Superhero 5K Run/Walk to support numerous community projects. Finally, on Sunday, we held a very successful March of Dimes/March for Babies event here on our campus; there were hundreds in attendance, in spite of the cloudy skies. Thanks so much to Penny Bodell and Annette Kiebler for leading our campus efforts this year, and to Dr. Randy Daniels for chairing the Monroe County March of Dimes/March for Babies this year.

So, another week begins, no doubt it cannot be as eventful as last week, which signaled the end of another academic year. Congratulations to all of the students who completed their studies this year. For some, it’s been a long journey that concluded in their walk across the stage on Friday.  I hope their lives were truly transformed and enriched during their studies here at MCCC. As they go on to a life of work or on to pursue a bachelor’s degree, I am sure they may be thinking “Thank God it’s Monday, the journey is over at MCCC,” and today a new journey begins for the rest of their lives – TGIM.

Building the CASE for the Future: the CASE to Support the MCCC Millage

What does the future hold? While I may not have the exact answer, I do know that a better Monroe County Community College (MCCC) means a better Monroe County. You see, as Monroe County Community College goes, so goes Monroe County. Nelson Mandela said: “Education is the greatest weapon with which we can change the world.” MCCC is changing Monroe County.

MCCC is the only college in this county, and without MCCC, the level of educational attainment, diversity, cultural enrichment, and much more would be nowhere near what it is now. That is why, 52 years ago, the community saw fit to establish a college in this county. Since then, the impact of this college, which serves approximately 12,000 students annually (both credit and non-credit), has graduated over 15,000 students during that period, and has an annual economic impact of over $120 million a year, has been felt locally, regionally, and globally.

Monroe County’s associate degree attainment level is higher than that of the state and nation because of MCCC; many local and regional industries continue to benefit from workforce training provided by the College; cultural enrichment continues to be enhanced because of MCCC’s  Meyer Theater and  Diversity and Culture Series. Yes, MCCC continues to educate, edify, illuminate, and enhance the community. Enriching and transforming lives, that is our mission, and that is what we have continued to do for the last 52 years.

No doubt, Monroe County would not be the county that it is today economically, educationally, and culturally without this college. Over the last 52 years we have transformed and enriched the entire community, with community support. It is our intention to continue to do so for the next 52 years and more, with continued support from our community.

In November, MCCC will seek a millage of an additional .95 mills for a period of five (5) years. This will amount to $47.50 a year or $3.96 a month for any taxpayer who owns a $100,000 home. If one does not own a home or if one lives in an apartment or trailer, there is no additional tax.  The funds generated from this millage will be utilized solely for buildings, infrastructure and facilities. Over the course of the next few months, we will be “building the CASE “for the future – the next 52 plus years. The word CASE is an acronym for Competitive, Accessible, Safe/Secure, and Efficient. We want a community college that is competitive not only academically, but also physically and otherwise; we want a community college that is accessible to students and community members with disabilities; we want a community college which is safe and secure for all who step on this campus; we want a community college that is efficient and effective in how it does business and utilizes its scarce resources. This college cannot be all these things without additional community support. Additional community support will ensure an enhanced Monroe County and a better and brighter future for all its residents and their progeny as we continue to transform and enrich lives. An investment in Monroe County Community College is an investment in the future of Monroe County.



Professors Making a Difference

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending a dinner event at the Public House, a local eatery co-owned by one of our alumni, Jackie Coarser, who coincidentally, has just been selected as this year’s Alumnus of the Year. You should hear her story at Commencement.

I was invited to this event by Professor Alex Babycz, who after 28 years of diligently serving MCCC has decided to retire. Alex invited me to this event because it was a celebration of one his former students’  ‘ascension’ to the ranks of Licensed Architect. Others present at this event from MCCC were Professors Gary Wilson and Ted Vassar. Both Gary and Ted have served MCCC as art professors for 45 years (almost as long as I have been alive). Gary is retiring in a couple of months, and Ted will soon follow. Among the three of them, they have served MCCC for 118 years. But their length of service is not why I am writing this blog. I am writing because of their dedication and commitment over those years to motivating and inspiring students like Jonathon to aspire to the greatest heights.

When Jonathon made his heartfelt comments about the reasons for his success, the only individuals he mentioned by name were his family members, Alex, Ted, and Gary. He gave a wonderful testimonial of the impact that MCCC and those three in particular have had on his life.

Yes, transforming and enriching lives, that’s what Alex, Gary, and Ted have done for many who have attended MCCC. The best way to do that is to take a personal interest in students like Jonathon. That’s what Alex, Gary, Ted and many other faculty have done since MCCC was founded 52 years ago. I hope the next generation of faculty can do the same for the next generation of students.


Celebrating Diversity and Dr. King’s Legacy

We are all different, and we need to celebrate and be more accepting of those differences. Here are two little known facts about the month of April: it is Celebrate Diversity Month and also National Arab-American Month. Go figure!

Today, is April 4, 2016. Does that date have any historical significance?  Yes, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on this day in 1968. Dr. King has been dead now for almost 50 years, but his legacy lives on.  Just last week, our Board approved the designation of Dr. King’s birthday as a College Holiday. It’s been a long time coming. Dr. King’s birthday was declared a national holiday in 1983 – that is 33 years ago. It is important to note that while MCCC’s campus has not closed on Dr. King’s birthday, we have celebrated it as a Day of Diversity. Our intention now is to celebrate that entire week as a Diversity Week and that particular Monday as a Day of Service – a “Day on” where we engage in various voluntary community/campus activities.

As I always say, the United States is the greatest country in the world because of our diversity. Dr. King’s birthday is the only national holiday that represents that diversity in this nation of ours. Dr. King’s dream applied to all people, not just African-Americans. He espoused, fought, and died for justice and equality for everyone. Let’s respect and honor that.

So, as we remember Dr. King’s death and legacy today and celebrate Diversity and Arab-American Month, let’s keep in mind that this great nation is a nation of immigrants and that is what has sustained this nation since its founding. All of us, regardless of background (ethnic, religious, or otherwise) are part of this equation. Join us as we celebrate our differences throughout this month and beyond.

Refugees are People Too

The world continues to explode, and I mean that literally. There are bombings all over the world, almost on a daily basis, of course the ones in the Western nations get the most media attention.  These are difficult times in this world, especially for those who have to flee from their homes.

Last night I was privileged to have participated on a panel with Professor Dan Shaw, Zeina Hamade of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, and Faisal Al Rawashada, who is a refugee from Syria.  The panel was organized by our Agora Newspaper students and moderated by two of the students, Evan Kutz and Jacob Adams. I joined the panel only because I was unable to get any of the actual African refugees I know to travel from Grand Rapids for this discussion. Faisal is a real Syrian refugee who fled Syria because of the violence there. He now lives in Dearborn and is attempting to start over. You see, starting over is what refugees have to do, if they ever get the chance to do so.

For over five years, I served as President of the Board of the African Community Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We helped resettle and provide assistance to African refugees.  There were numerous challenges for these refugees, including, but not limited to: financial, language, health, academic, cultural, etc. We provided translation services, housing, social integration, tutoring, legal services, mentoring, and much more.  Individuals who have to flee their homes essentially have their whole lives turned upside down, and it takes time to adjust, especially in a strange land. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there were 60 million displaced people (including refugees) in 2014; it’s higher now. Of the top 10 nations producing refugees, five are in Africa. Even as the Syrian refugee crisis escalates, the African crisis has not abated.  Worldwide, matters continue to get worse, the number of refugees continues to increase and the backlash against refugees is gaining momentum. Even as this occurs, let us remember that over 50 percent of refugees are children– the most vulnerable of our society.

The United States of America is the greatest nation in the world because of our diversity.  The United States is a nation of immigrants. We are all different and all of us (with the exception of American Indians) either came here from somewhere else or our ancestors did. As a result we must learn to more tolerant and understanding and not buy into the political fear-mongering and xenophobia. Refugees are people too and deserve the same opportunities that many of us have been given.