An entrepreneurship class at Miramar College before the pandemic. Courtesy SDCCD

The San Diego Community College District is all in for entrepreneurial education. And that commitment will pay off for our students as our region begins to recover from the economic devastation of a multi-year global pandemic.

The career opportunities for students who pursue entrepreneurial education are excellent in the San Diego region. Just look at the numbers from a 2017 survey by the San Diego-Imperial Center of Excellence for Labor Market Research:

  • San Diego and Imperial County are home to more than 26,000 startups and small businesses.
  • In San Diego County, 95% of business establishments employ fewer than 50 employees.

Clearly in our region, small businesses are a primary driving economic force and entrepreneurship is a viable field for students.

That same survey found that more than 1,800 San Diego and Imperial County community college students who exited a business and entrepreneurship program experienced a 37% increase in earnings. And in a 2019 survey of independent “gig economy” workers in our region found that more than 30% wanted to receive more training on how they can market themselves, increase sales and manage finances.

To respond to this demand for entrepreneurial education, the San Diego Community College District offers a full range of degrees and certificates in entrepreneurship and small business. Degrees range from a focused Associate Degree in Entrepreneurship at Miramar College, an Associate Degree in Entrepreneurial Small Business Management at City College, and a very unique Certificate in Cannabis Dispensary Operations from City College to serve that new and growing industry in California.

Most importantly, all of our degrees include courses in soft skills such as communication that are so important for students to be successful in the workforce and the entrepreneurial environment.

An April 2020 study of job postings in the San Diego region by the Center for Excellence for Labor Market Research found that the most important 21st century employability skills in online job postings included skills in oral and written communications, collaboration, adaptability, initiative and critical thinking among others.

To prepare our students with the needed communication skills on this list, our colleges offer a variety of additional courses that prepare our students in those areas. The goal of entrepreneurial education is to not only teach specific job skills but to help students gain understanding and practice with essential skills such as teamwork, communication, adaptability, creativity, problem solving, conflict resolution, and more.

Each of San Diego’s four community colleges has programs specifically designed to support students who want to pursue an entrepreneurial career.

At Miramar College, in addition to the program course work, students are offered entrepreneurship workshops, start-up support services, intensive mentorship, law workshops and clinics in coding, design and branding

At City College our students have on-campus opportunities to actually lead businesses, including a student-run food pantry and clothing store — “Fantastique” — as well as the Business Resources Center.

Our College of Continuing Education was the 2019 Entrepreneurial College of the Year, recognized by the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship. NACCE is the nation’s leading organization focused on promoting entrepreneurship through community colleges and represents over 340 community and technical colleges that serve more than three million students.

The College of Continuing Education is fast becoming a leader in online career education. It recently entered into a partnership with Unmudl to offer a large group of career skills courses online to students locally and globally. Now, students from across the globe are able to take an entrepreneurial education course from the College of Continuing Education or from several other community colleges within the Unmudl network. 

One program that should be of interest to budding entrepreneurs is the Small Business Planning Certificate which is a two-course certificate program that provides students with the principles, practices, strategies, and requirements needed to form and manage a small business.

Our work at the San Diego Community College District will continue to support our students’ dreams of starting new businesses or to beginning careers in San Diego’s small business economy.

We are at a critical time in history when colleges must provide career-oriented education and re-skilling to prepare students for the post pandemic economy. This is highlighted in a recent report by the national Association of Community College Trustees titled “Reskilling for the Pandemic Recession and Recovery.” This report stresses the importance of community colleges in workforce development and concluded that colleges can improve reskilling programs by increasing financial aid, focusing on the unique needs of adult and out-of-work learners, and offering hybrid educational options.

As a trustee at the San Diego Community College District, I am advocating for additional funding for the expansion of entrepreneurial education in our community college system and to ensure that our entrepreneurial programs include vital courses in communications to help students be successful in entrepreneurial careers.

In the post-pandemic world, the workplace will be dramatically changed and our educational programs must evolve to prepare students for that future. Independent gig work, small businesses, and virtual online businesses will continue to grow even more after the pandemic, offering huge opportunities for the students who are educated and prepared with entrepreneurial skills.

Bernie Rhinerson is a trustee of the San Diego Community College District.

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