Future College Parent - Jermaine

Where is your post education home? – Jermaine Williams

For the premier of the Future College Parent Podcast, I was honored to be joined by Dr. Jermaine Williams, president of Montgomery College and a first-generation student himself.   He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met and he’s all about providing access and equity to higher education. I couldn’t think of anyone better to start the show out with!  Jermaine and I talk about college preparation, choice, and finance.

Episode Timeline:

[01:05] Introducing Jermaine Williams!
[01:46] Justin’s Disclaimer
[02:48] Jermaine’s journey to transition from high school to college
[03:14] Some useful resources for a seamless high school to college transition
[08:00] Having conversations with parents and students as the president of the college.
[10:39] What types of students are accepted into community colleges?
[12:39] Are community colleges any lesser?
[16:09] Addressing the stigma associated with community colleges
[17:56] Skills to develop to be successful out of community college
[20:18] How parents can encourage students to seek out community college resources
[23:29] Impacting students to feel a sense of belonging.
[25:15] Jermaine’s advice to the secondary education sector
[29:46] Advice to four-year institutions
[33:43] Justin’s 5 takeaways from the episode.

Five things I learned from my talk with Jermaine!

1. Community Colleges are typically open access, which means anyone who completes a high school education or equivalent can get in! Congratulations! Your student CAN attend a community college! However, this doesn’t mean academic rigor is lesser. CC’s are accredited or confirmed they meet the same standards of academic quality as four-year institutions.
2. Students who start at a community college can succeed at a four-year institution with the foundations they gain at the community college. The diploma your student will receive from the four-year institution will read the same as a student’s who began at the four-year school. The only difference is CC students will likely pay significantly less for their first two years at the CC.
3. Parents should know seamless transfer isn’t always guaranteed, meaning all the credits earned at the CC may not transfer to the four year. It’s important to check with the four-year institution for details.
4. Your community college can be accessed NOW! There are programs and services for high school students like the ones Jermaine mentioned such as taking college courses in high school, summer programs, or even taking your senior year at a community college. Check them out NOW, do not wait!
5. Last but not least if you don’t know what to ask a potential college start with what you do know. Remember Jermaine’s bucket analogy. For example, you know college cost money to attend, you can simply ask how does someone pay for college? I promise you it’s OK to not know but start with what you do know.


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Listen to episodes on https://www.futurecollegeparent.com/: Please share the podcast widely with other parents, leaders of activities your student is involved in, and your school administrators so they can share with your school district. You can also let parents know the show is streaming directly from the website and there is no need to download anything!  The show is also on your favorite podcast platforms as well.

Parent Action Plan!: Parents can download the action plan document to actively engage with their student, secondary, and post-secondary professionals to help their student prepare, chose and finance college.

Lesson Plan & Worksheet: Leaders of activities your student is involved in, and your school administrators can download the Lesson Plan and Worksheet for this episode to help teach all Future College Parents the content of this podcast episode.

Referenced links:

  1. ‘A Co-Curricular Partnership’ between Adelphi University and Nassau Community College: Nassau Community College students are able to pursue their associate degree programs while living a four-year institution! https://www.ncc.edu/admissions/adelphi_co_curricular_partnership.shtml
  2. ‘Pre-college programs’: High school students can enroll in pre-college programs at Nassau Community College such as:
    1. Concurrent and Dual Enrollment: High school students are enrolled in both high school and college courses. Courses can then be applied at NCC or can transfer to other two- and four-year schools.
    2. Early Admission: High school students who have completed their junior year, may be able to enroll at NCC as a first-year student.
    3. Enrichment Program: Explore courses to see what a student likes while earning college credit. https://www.ncc.edu/admissions/precollege/index.shtml


Justin Alger 00:00
My name is Dr. Justin Alger, and this is the first six-episode premiere of the future college parent podcast.

Jermaine Williams 00:10
My parents didn’t know the questions to ask, but they knew to some extent the buckets like they knew cost money. They knew there was supposed to be a goal. And I think if you have that framework, then you can start to formulate your questions around that.

Justin Alger 00:27
Jermaine! Welcome to the future college parent podcast. Thank you so much for being here and helping future parents’ future college parents. And thank you for being one of our first six guests, you our guest number one for our six-episode premiere of the future college parent podcast. Thanks Jermaine.

Jermaine Williams 02:40
It is an absolute pleasure, Justin, thank you for having me. I’m very excited to be with you today.

Justin Alger 02:46
Well, let’s jump right into it.

Jermaine Williams 02:47

Justin Alger 02:48
Can you share with us? What about your journey from high school to college do you think informed the path that you’re on now?

Jermaine Williams 02:56
The resources that came with my journey and realizing the individuals who helped me along the way. And that’s really what as has informed, you know, where I am now, knowing that those resources were so essential, and so much more than I thought I over whatever needs to successfully transition.

Justin Alger 03:14
So, what type of resources your folks your school?

Jermaine Williams 03:18
Absolutely, that’s one of the great things about the podcast, Justin, and why I’m so excited to be here is because I didn’t even know what those resources were when I was transitioning as a first-generation college student. You know, it’s not only until I reflect back, and think about that, given my time in higher education professionally, that I identify what was important and you started to hit the nail, you know, right on the head, you know, community resources from, you know, my, my church, to my coaches, excuse me to teachers, to the counselors who were in colleges, there was so many resources and such a such connectivity with a large array of individuals and groups, I didn’t even I didn’t even expect I would need all that support to successfully transition and looking back I realized that all that support was absolutely critical for successful transition.

Justin Alger 04:16
Tell me if you don’t understand or you don’t have a sense, or your parents didn’t necessarily have a sense of the of the processes. How can colleges respond to, parents in that, in that scenario, that situation?

Jermaine Williams 04:31
from me from my lived experience as a first-generation college student and from my professional experience, so it’s identifying what individual’s what parents in this case, what they do know and then leveraging that to provide information that we know will help them to support their students. So, you think of the major components of institutions of higher education, whether it be financial aid or support services or academics, and then You’re going to want to get a baseline of what do your parents, you know, their influencers, we know they can support their students and they want to, but we got to get a baseline of what they know. And then once you know that, then we can appropriately provide information so that they can be more knowledgeable and be able to have a greater impact on on their students.

Justin Alger 05:21
So essentially creating an environment that’s where colleges are student and parent ready for the process?

Jermaine Williams 05:27
Absolutely, absolutely. As we’ve discussed, you know, having this paradigm shift of being student ready, and that involves the parents, right. So, we want to know, what students were embracing, as far as you know, where they are with everything from socially, academically, culturally, emotionally, we also want to know that about their parents, right, because we know that parents are such an integral part of our students lives. And we know that when they go to community college, look where I work, we don’t have to now our students are going back and forth every day, they’re going back to their family components. So, we need to be able to ensure that their parents are there and are able to support them with, you know, some useful knowledge about colleges and universities that as first-generation college students, first generation parents or first-generation college students, we may need to be able to support them with.

Justin Alger 06:33
And so, in your role, when you’re when you’re getting to do the work that you really care about, you know, the work that led you to take the job, what kind of things are you doing?

Jermaine Williams 06:41
Asking a lot of questions, what can we do to enhance right, what can we do to better support Students? What can we do to meet our regional workforce demands? Right? What? How is our demographic changing? And how do we need to change, right? Why are we doing things this way? And what can we do differently in order to equitably enhance student access, completion and post completion success and a manner that is data informs. So that’s what I’m doing when I’m, you know, really, you know, having fun, which is all the time. And it’s, you know, looking at what we’re doing, and how we can make systemic and systematic change together as a college and as a community, in the entire ecosystem. So that we can advance in an equitable and data informed manner, student access completion and post completion success, knowing full well that we want our students to leave with a job that as a livable family wage provides social mobility, are they transferred to an institution where ultimately, that occurs?

Justin Alger 07:59
Yeah, I think a lot of times when people think of, or maybe when parents think of the president of a college they normally see, you show up at an orientation, you show up at a, you know, campus event, you’re shaking hands, and you’re kissing babies and that type of thing. But there’s really a lot more to, what it is that you’re doing outside of those very surface level conversations that you’re having with parents and students,

Jermaine Williams 08:25
I would also add that those conversations are exhilarating and extremely important. Because, you know, I take those back, and, you know, pull pieces and share with other folks, I was just talking with a parent, and this was their experience or talking with a student. And this was their experience, I was the until COVID. I used to walk around a lot, and just randomly engage students and ask how they’re doing. And that was also one of the best parts of the day is when I would just leave the office, get out of meetings, and, you know, go find out from the students exactly what their experiences and you know, how they were faring at the institution?

Justin Alger 09:07
If you have parents that have no clue what questions are to ask, or what type of questions should they be thinking of what type of thing should they want to know?

Jermaine Williams 09:16
It’s a really interesting question, given the, you know, the kind of infrastructure of higher education and all the nuances and the jargon that I’m trying to stay away from during our, during our conversation, the questions you think about as far as think about the purpose of the experience, and then the questions that apply, right. So, let’s think about the purpose of college or the foe side, right? I mean, you think about the academic purpose, you’re thinking about the social development, right? The cultural development, you’re thinking, you know, about the professional development, and those just kind of a few categories. You’re obviously thinking about the financial component of college. Right? So, all those things if you put them into large buckets, as a, you know, individual’s a first-generation college student, my parents didn’t know the questions to ask. But they knew some sorts of some extent, the buckets, like they knew cost money, they knew there was supposed to be a goal. And I think if you have that framework, then you can start to formulate your questions around that, even if they are, you know, kind of, you know, just like the So, what will my student be able to do after they graduate? Or academically? What will they experience? And that can kind of go deeper into other questions as the person responds.

Justin Alger 10:38
I wanted to shift gears, and I wanted to talk about what are what are the types of students that are accepted into community college, sort of a broad generalization of, who the community college student is?

Jermaine Williams 10:50
The beauty, one of the beauties of community colleges, is and the way in which they were founded in terms of open access institutions of higher education. For the most part, community colleges, you know, are not that old, around 50, 60 years, you will find, I mean, the first, you know, community college out in the Midwest is, you know, 100 years old, and you’ll find some others that have been around for a while, but for the most part, you know, 50, 60, 80 years, I’m really founded on this idea of being open access, institutions of higher education, that support the community, right, in more ways than one they support the community, in a sense of, they’re close by so close in proximity, you don’t have to travel far within your community to receive a high quality education. They also support the community in terms of I’ve mentioned this before, you know, workforce, right, and the, in the economy, the economic vitality of the community. So when you think about the open access in nature, and you think about the other components of the historical mission of community colleges, that’s really what you think about another kind of add on to that is, you gotta have your comprehensive is a jargon word community college, which looks at not only it looks at transfer students who are going to transfer after two years or a certain period of time, and students who will go directly into the workforce. And then you have community colleges that are solely focused on one or the either, they’re solely focused on the transfer component, or they’re solely focused on, okay, the job the workforce component, and I’m lucky enough to work at a comprehensive community college. So, our students want to, you know, some of them want to transfer to a four-year institution, and some of them are really looking to come in and, you know, get into an Allied Health Program, occupational therapy, radiological technology, surgical technology, and they’re looking to go into the workforce. So that’s a little bit of a brief overview.

Justin Alger 12:59
And I think you talked about open access. And I think about when I was a youngster entering the college search process. And I started, we had a, we had a small technical school that was, you know, 16 miles down the road. And I sort of had this perception that, you know, they let anybody into this school, so maybe it’s, it’s lesser, or maybe it’s not as academically rigorous just because they let, they let anybody into the institution.

Jermaine Williams 13:27
There is a high level of academic rigor, and when we think about it, and this is kind of where I thread the needle of, you know, our conversation and too much jargon. And you think about what I say, authenticates an institution of higher education in the United States, and then, of outside of the United States, think about accreditation, community colleges are accredited by the same accrediting bodies as your four year institutions, your small, you know, private institutions, your large research public institutions, they’re all accredited by the same agencies, and those are reasonably beings, but you think about a nursing program, right? The same accrediting body that is looking at a nursing program at a four-year institution is going through and making sure that community colleges are as rigorous with their nursing program. So, you think about if there is a certain standard and a benchmark institution of higher education, you know, I have to seek and a lot of that oftentimes is through accreditation, and community colleges are accredited institutions of higher education. I mean, another one of the things I’ll share with you is, you know, you look at interestingly enough, you can look at the students who spent two years at a community college getting a great foundation, a fantastic academic experience for an affordable cost. then transition to a four-year institution. And you can compare their graduation rates with students who started at the institution itself. And in my experience, and it depends, it’s not across the board. But I think that would be a question you may want to ask if you’re thinking about rigor, because in my experience, those have been pretty close, if not even higher for the students who start at community colleges. And again, that depends, it’s not across the board. But it just illustrates the rigor, that a student can successfully transition to a four-year institution because of the great foundation they’ve received at their community college.

Justin Alger 15:39
So if I’m, so if I’m a parent, and I’m on the fence of well, or I have this perception that in order for my student to or my students going to attend college, they’re going to attend, they need to attend a four year institution, because those two year schools, who knows what’s going on with those, and I think in your in your, your four pillars, your four pillars addressed you, suggest that we must eliminate the stigma in the community that people might associate with attending community college, and I know that rigor is certainly one of those things, but taking a look at graduation rates or retention rates, once students do transfer into those four year schools, you’re suggesting that they’re even comparable or, or potentially better, in a lot of cases, maybe not most cases,

Jermaine Williams 16:33
It definitely is something in my experience is definitely something you would want to research individually with this institution. But having been at several institutions, you know, in the in the East Coast, in the Midwest, and in New England, I can say that I’ve often found them to be comparable, if not, you know, slightly better depending on the on the population. Another thing I would say is, you know, as far as the idea of a community college and you think about, at the end of the day, when you graduate, if you choose to go to a four year institution, and you have received your associate’s from a community college, at the end of the day, you also receive a credential from the four year institution, there’s no there’s not an Asterix, there’s not something that says Jermaine only attended this institution for two years, there’s that diploma that says, insert your four year institution, here, it’s, it’s the same diploma that you’re getting, except for the fact that as a student, you pay two years of community college tuition and fees, and not four years of public or private tuition and fees, but you leave with the same end result.

Justin Alger 17:47
That makes sense, regardless of where you start, where you finish, it’s the same, it makes a lot of sense. So, what type of what type of skills or aptitude or knowledge base or awareness, do you recommend that, that students develop to be successful at a community college?

Jermaine Williams 18:08
You know, students bring, you know, the, the energy, the excitement, to experience newness, the transparency, to share what is occurring. And sometimes that takes courage, because community colleges or higher education have different experiences. And I said, the transparency encouraged because listening to students is how we make change, and I go back to being student ready. If we don’t know that something is impacting a student, or several students in a way, a certain way that maybe you know, deleterious to their trajectory there that we can’t adjust to that we can’t make the change. Right. So, when I say, you know, kind of that idea of want to be open to things that are new, but also transparent and courageous with sharing your experience, because that provides us an opportunity to learn and provides us with the, you know, opportunity to really change and pivot so that we can best support students. So those would be some, some big ideas, really, you know, the faculty and staff at community colleges, they want to see students succeed. And I’m sure that you know, it’s colleges and universities across Russia speaking specifically as a community college president, you know, we want to see students succeed. So, you know, we want to know what we can do to help you to help you succeed. So, I think, you know, the energy along with the energy is you know, the dreams. Take what you want to do and bring that kind of just as passionately as you can. And let’s pursue it together. Right. This is a place for you to start your dreams and ensure you can accomplish what you want to accomplish.

Justin Alger 20:06
So, what about from an academic preparedness standpoint? It’s just it’s my perception. And I think there’s data support that a lot of community college students come to the community college academically underprepared. How can you? How can we leverage if our If our parents know that our students aren’t, aren’t the most academically either gifted or academically focused? Right? How do we advise our parents to encourage their students to seek out resources and help that the community colleges or that the community college provides?

Jermaine Williams 20:49
So, I’d say that’s for parents, you know, you can ask the questions in terms of how things are going. Specifically, I think that’s one of the things keying on, you know, having really worked with parents a lot in the past, especially with you, Justin, it’s, you know, parents are so filled pride and so much care for their students. And when you’re having that college journey, that community college journey, specifically, it’s how do you ask that level of detail? How was your x class going? Why is it going like this? How was this exam? How was, you know, what are the names of your professors? How are you feeling? And then are you taking advantage of the Writing Center? What resources are there? Have you seen your academic advisor? What did they say? What did they say, when you went to the Career Services Center? You know, because you’re just so you know, parents out there, you’re paying for all that. All that’s included, all these great support services, including your tuition and fees. So that’s a part of the package deal. And you really can leverage that as a holistic community college experience.

Justin Alger 21:59
So, college is more than just being in the classroom, essentially, right. So, you learn, you go to the classroom, and you learn, and you engage with the academic material, but then there are opportunities on the outside, outside of the walls of the institution, or the walls of the classroom really, to, to help get a deeper understanding, or to get an understanding, if you didn’t understand the first time.

Jermaine Williams 22:25
Or, and or to become kind of a more connected to the institution, which will make you more excited about, you know, attending classes, right, being able to see yourself at the institution, whether it’s through a club or organization, or as a student athlete, or as a student worker, you know, as something else for, parents, as far as what, you know, what work opportunities are there at the community college, whether it’s through work study, so financial aid, or student worker, or something completely different, and just, you know, within the fabric of the institution, as a sole kind of institutional employee. But when you think about that, is, are there other opportunities that will help your students, you know, be able to see themselves fully at that institution, like, oh, I, I see myself here, this is an educational home. For me, I am excited about attending class, I’m excited about seeing my academic advisor.

Justin Alger 23:27
And you think anything that’s, that’s realistic that students those students feel that way? Let me let me get up and go to class. Let me go see my academic advisor.

Jermaine Williams 23:37
Yes, I’ve had those relationships with as an academic advisor. Absolutely, I think if we can, and we can get students seeing themselves. And it’s, I mean, it’s a lot of research about sense of belonging, and the impact of sense of belonging and having, you know, being involved in an atmosphere, in this case, a community college, where one, I can see myself there, I feel as though I belong. Two, I believe that people there genuinely want to see me succeed. And thirdly, the individuals there are willing to put forth the time and effort to help me succeed. So, can I see myself there? You know, is this like an educational home? Do I believe like, am I the second like, am I actually embrace them? And do I believe that people are wanting to see me succeed? And then the next step is, you know, do our people there actually taking action to help me succeed, right? Cuz, you can believe it, and not take action, right? You can see yourself there. But if nobody else sees you there and no one can think anybody, you know, people that you see. So, it’s kind of that those three parts and there’s a lot of research on sense of belonging. I’ve kind of distilled it to some things but His sense of belonging is very powerful and having an educational home. You know, I mean, it’s meaningful.

Justin Alger 25:09
So, I’m going to ask, I’ll get into those last two questions that I have. And these are the questions that I’m asking of everyone. So higher ed, and secondary education don’t necessarily have a formal way of communicating, right? So, think of yourself as a spokesman for higher education. And maybe can you share some advice that you have for secondary education as a whole.

Jermaine Williams 25:34
We need to capitalize on what we know works. There’s a there are a lot of partnerships out there that work, whether they be individual college to high school, college school district, or whether they be legislative, there’s some great things happening across the country with legislation that really encourages a higher education, secondary education, collaboration. So, I think it’s, you know, we’re getting one of the takeaways and one thing I would share is we know, some promising practices, successful strategies. Let’s really dive into those, investigate those. And the one other piece I would add, and I share this with superintendents we share back and forth, I’ve shared several times with you on our roof conversation is how can we ensure were addressing equity gaps with what we’re doing? Right? How can we ensure that we’re looking at what’s occurring in a way that’s, you know, socially, just, and everyone has an equitable opportunity for really for access, completion and post completion success, and we’re not just continuing with the kind of the haves and the have nots? Right, but this is, there are some great components that are happening. There are some fantastic conversations that at Nassau Community College, we’ve had with several superintendents, and we have a couple of programs that are slated to start in the fall, where we’re going to have high school students who are at the college, you know, pretty much taking their entire senior year of their high school at at Nassau Community College. So, there’s great partnerships there. And we think we just have to really bolster those, because there’s fantastic things that we can do together.

Justin Alger 27:29
So, you have so you’ve created a program where seniors are going to sit in their senior engage in their senior work at the community college.

Jermaine Williams 27:41
Yes, through a partnership with a few school districts we have we have done that. And, and again, I wish I could say it’s new, and it’s innovative. And the reality is, you know, we know that that keeps students engaged, we know it works, we know it will have positive outcomes, and we need to, you know, again, kind of dive into what we know works.

Justin Alger 28:04
You’re suggesting that higher education should in communication with secondary education, look for the best practices and see what works is, as you suggested, right? And then and then replicate. Right? So, my assumption, then is that that isn’t happening broadly, between higher education and secondary ed. So how, how could parents use knowing that use that information to inform how they interact with their students or the advice that they give to their students in choosing colleges?

Jermaine Williams 28:35
I appreciate that. And I think I would share kind of the adoption versus adaption, right, so, so replication as much as is, you know, adapting. So, we’re not, you know, it’s kind of taking what works and just reproducing it right. We’re figuring out how it actually adapts to our different cultures, our communities. And then so basic frameworks and tenants and then the idea of thick because it’s so dispersed, both higher education, and secondary education. I think that’s where, you know, the opportunity comes into play, because again, there are great opportunities, and it just similarly to the college or the university, it says Community College, there can be a specific focus of the high school. Right, so at some point time like it, you know, it may make sense for high school to have a different partnership with a different college or university, you know, so the kind of it’s interesting, look at it across the board. It really does kind of go to, you know, who you’re supporting what the goals are of each educational institution. It’s kind of went to hit on that piece.

Justin Alger 29:46
And so, bonus follow up question for you since you’re at a two-year school, there also isn’t a formal way within higher education and specifically two-year schools and four-year schools to communicate, right there, isn’t there? There’s not always a formal way of communication between two- and four-year schools. So as a spokesman for the for the two-year schools, what advice do you have for four-year institutions?

Jermaine Williams 30:15
For four-year schools? I mean, I may sound like a, like a broken record. But do we, we know a lot in higher education, we’ve done all thinking on a lot of initiatives, and even community colleges that are 50,60 years old. So, when we know something works, so what works, having students be able to seamlessly transition from a two-year college to a four-year institution, right? Meaning all their credits go and they can transfer it as junior status. Right? So, they have two years. We know that’s advantageous. Alright, as opposed to not all of their credits transferring. So when we continue to work, and we do this at Nassau Community College, you know, it’s done nationally is, but looking at our what we call articulation agreements, and ensuring that students are able to transfer ideally, all the credits that they’ve earned at the community college, right, because the last thing you want to do maybe the last thing, but you don’t want to spend two years two and a half years at a community college and think, wow, I am now Junior status, and go to a four year institution to find out that you have three more years of higher education to receive your undergraduate degree. Right. But we know kind of to my point earlier, it’s kind of growing what works. We know that that works. And you can see that with SUNY seamless transfer and the efforts to try and help students transfer seamlessly. We have an articulation agreement, we have a circulation agreement, and NASA Community College with several institutions, we just enhanced articulation agreement with a Delphi University, which is fantastic, actually gives students the opportunity to, to live and experience a Delphi University firsthand, while they’re enrolled at NASA Community College, and also provides that opportunity where they’re working with advisors from day one. So, we can do the best possible thing, put our best possible effort forward to ensure all their credits transferred to a Delphi and they transfer and as juniors. So, there are again, promising practices successful strategies out there, and really diving into those and within equity focus, and a data informed lens. Because what we can do and what a lot of two-year four-year institutions have been doing. So, there’s a lot of good work going on out there.

Justin Alger 32:41
And I will link because I recently read the Adelphi Concurrent Enrollment Program, which congratulations, it’s fantastic. It really speaks volumes to the work that you’re doing, and the direction that you are leading the institution. But I will link that to the show notes so listeners can read as well. So, I think at this point, that’s all the questions that I have for you, and your man, I really want to thank you for coming on the future college parent podcast. It’s been an absolute pleasure. It’s always good to chat with you.

Jermaine Williams 32:50
Likewise. Always great to chat with you. The pleasure has been all mine, Justin, thank you for the opportunity. And thank you for providing this resource to parents.