New Kankakee Community College Vice President for Academic Affairs David Naze is a man committed to helping students succeed.

Naze started his new position July 1, replacing Michael Boyd, who moved up to become KCC’s president. Naze is a successful product of the community college system, having graduated from Rock Valley College. He also has worked at Joliet Junior College and Prairie State College.

Think talked with Naze about student success at KCC. The questions were posed by by Phil Angelo for Think. The answers were provided by Naze. Both are edited for length and continuity.

What inspired you to go into education?

When I was studying at Rock Valley College, there was a speech professor, Bob Betts. He is still there. When I took his class, I knew that I wanted to do what he did.

The experience at Rock Valley changed me. It gave me direction. It made me see that a community college could open doors for students.

What lessons from your own education can you bring to the students at Kankakee Community College?

Two things.

First, get connected to the college. That means joining a club or getting to know a faculty member or a staff member, or both.

Second, realize that the education you receive will pay off in life, even if the immediate opportunity is not there.

We have a robust economy now. Basically, if you want a job and are willing to work, you can get a job. That has not always been true. How do you convince someone today of the value of an education?

Keep today’s job in perspective. The economy can go up and down.

Education really opens up the world beyond a paycheck. Education makes you a better thinker and a better problem solver.

At KCC, you take in a lot of students who are first generation, the first in their family to go to college. How do you help them?

KCC has a lot of student services dedicated to working with first-generation students. One of the best things that those students can do is to strike up a conversation with their professors.

A lot of the teachers at KCC were first-generation college students in their own families. They will share their stories.

Being a first-generation student in a family is an obstacle, but it also is an opportunity. It can carry a lot of pride and students can embrace the role.

We live in a time when the numbers of women in college have come to outnumber men. What can be done to get more men into college?

A lot more women are going to college these days, and that’s a good thing. It was not always true. In our history, that hasn’t been the case.

We have to get the message to men that equipping yourself with a degree is a positive thing, whether it is positive for yourself or positive for an entire family because you see yourself as the provider.

One of the challenges for any community college is getting the students to stay in school and to finish their degrees. What would help here?

It is a big problem to solve. If we knew all the answers we would be in really good shape.

We do know that there is a benefit for students who go to school full time as opposed to part time. When you go to school part time, it takes longer, and life can get in the way. It could be a change of circumstances. Sometimes, too, a person’s interests change.

The basic advice is to take more classes and finish faster. Of course, everyone can’t do that.

Assume you are a parent looking to give advice to a son or daughter. What is a hot degree, where a graduate stands a real good chance of landing a real good job?

The immediate thing to look into is STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Degrees in those fields are very marketable and there is a shortage, too.

Anything in the health care field is good, too. There is a significant nursing shortage.

But I don’t want students to cast aside the humanities. Liberal arts works. In the long term, liberal arts helps with critical thinking.

With an election year coming up, politicians are coming up with different possibilities of paying for college. What do you think should be done to hold down college costs? What would be the fairest way to pay for college?

When it comes to holding down costs, one of the most effective things is to make sure students have access to college courses in high school, like a dual credit program, where a high school course counts toward college credit. Community colleges are overlooked, but they do hold down student costs.

While there is talk of making college free, I’m not sure completely free is the way to go. People should have some skin in the game. Still, something has to be done. The current pricetag of college is unsustainable — paying $25,000 per year to go to a state school, or $100,000 for four years.

I do believe that if a student qualifies for aid, he or she should get all that aid. Aid should rely more on need than on academic performance.

It might be that there will be numerous changes to college funding. Equitable access doesn’t have to mean one simple solution. It might be a combination of things.

What is the best thing a student can do to ensure success?

See an advisor and connect with a faculty member.

As a community college, a lot of students here are going to eventually transfer. How can students get the most mileage out of courses to make sure they transfer?

In Illinois, if you get the Associate of Arts degree, typically all your credits will transfer. It’s a good thing to check and make sure.

Anything you would like to talk about that we haven’t covered?

In many ways, there is an anti-education narrative going on in the country that should be reversed. People ask the question: Is a college degree still valuable? The answer is yes and we have to reinforce that value. Not everyone sees it now, but it should not be taken for granted.

It starts by getting out and talking in high schools and talking to parents. We have to meet with legislators. Educational policy tends to be reactive. We need to make it proactive.

Education goes beyond just getting a job.

All communities rely heavily on their community colleges, but I can see here that the link between KCC and the community is even stronger. That’s why I am glad to be here.

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