Romeo Agbalog 2

Romeo Agbalog

Just a few weeks ago we concluded the 32nd Olympiad, and in a few days the Paralympic games will, too, come to an end. I reflect on the athletes who competed in these summer games in Tokyo, Japan. Athletes from across the globe whose dedication, determination, hard work, and sacrifice earned them the privilege to represent their respective country and to compete against others at the peak of their sport, all in pursuit of worldwide recognition and Olympic gold.

While the Olympics have come to an end, there is a competition of sorts occurring closer to home. While not athletic in nature, this event centers around education. Like the athletes of the Olympic Games, high schoolers also exert dedication, determination, hard work and sacrifice though four years of high school to compete for a spot at one of the best colleges or universities in the nation. Like Olympians, exceptional students also earn medals and receive recognition, yet all students strive to reach the height of the career of their choice and pursue a different kind of gold that comes in the form of salary and other forms of compensation.

Similar to Olympic hopefuls, students also suffer setbacks, and are sometimes challenged to overcome what can seem like insurmountable obstacles. But when they do, their achievements bring about more than just a personal sense of accomplishment, but community pride and joy. Whether medaling in Olympic competition or attaining a college degree, both bring about a wonderful feeling not easily or often replicated.

But what if we could help more students experience that sense of accomplishment that comes with earning a college degree? What if we could help students do that more efficiently, quicker and much more affordably? What if our students and community, like the Olympians of the 2021 Summer Games, could “dare mighty things?”

I recall back to 2019 when the Cougars of McFarland High School did just that with the launch of Early College. For the uninitiated, Early College is a bold and innovative program pioneered at Bakersfield College that reengineered the way higher education is delivered for high schoolers, especially those in rural communities where persistent challenges present obstacles to degree attainment. Early College provides college courses to students while in high school and provides an opportunity for high school students to graduate from high school with not just a diploma, but an associate degree from Bakersfield College. Since its inception, Bakersfield College has conferred associate degrees to more than 300 high school students across Kern County including high schools from rural communities like Arvin, Delano and Wasco.

As the president of the Kern Community College District Board of Trustees, I introduced the new chancellor at a public event in April. In her acceptance speech, Chancellor Sonya Christian played off a hidden message embedded by NASA engineers that was unveiled as the parachute opened up to land the Perseverance rover on Mars, labeling the work to come at KCCD as #DaringMightyThings. Early College is bold and innovative indeed, but to “dare mighty things” we must go further. And, again McFarland High School-Early College has channeled its competitive spirit as the 12-time cross country state champions to daringly lead the pack in a new Early College innovation.

So in a few weeks, join Bakersfield College and McFarland High School-Early College in daring mighty things in announcing a new opportunity for high school students to earn a bachelor's degree in Industrial Automation in five years. In partnership, Bakersfield College and McFarland High School–Early College has removed barriers and created an opportunity for all students with the chance to have a college education, regardless of their circumstance or background.

As the City of Light, Paris, opens up for the 2024 Olympics, we’ll see athletes step onto the winners' podium to receive their medals, we’ll also see a Cougar-Renegade step onto another stage, and walk across it, with “the gold” but in the form of an associate degree en route to a bachelor’s degree. Now wouldn’t that be mighty thing?

Romeo Agbalog is president of the Kern Community College Board of Trustees and represents Area 4, which encompasses parts of northern and southern Tulare counties and includes the communities of Delano, McFarland, Wasco, Shafter, Buttonwillow and Lost Hills.