Earlier this spring I delivered the commencement address at Parkland College, a two-year community college in Champaign, Illinois. As a supporter and admirer of Parkland, I was incredibly honored to be doing this for Parkland’s 50th commencement, especially since I was there at Parkland’s very first commencement as a faculty member — a half a century earlier.

It was at Parkland I first witnessed the awesome power of community college. An open admission policy, along with reasonable tuition and geographic proximity to home, makes community college an excellent pathway to postsecondary education for many students, especially first-generation college students and those who are from low-income families. It’s a much less expensive option than a four-year college, makes for an easier transition from high school (boosting a kid’s confidence along the way), and gives a student more time to think about his/her career path.

I’m sure there are a lot of college graduates out there now, who are swimming in tens of thousands of dollars in student debt, wishing they had spent their first two years of post-secondary education at community college.

And for students who do not choose the four-year school route, but who are driven by other worthy and respected pursuits — perhaps as a veterinary technician or a logistics professional — community college successfully prepares graduates for well-paying, intellectually stimulating jobs that are in hot demand these days.

In fact, when I was doing research for my recent book, “Working Class to College: The Promise and Peril Facing Blue-Collar America,” I came across an astonishing fact. I learned that more than 5 million good jobs are going unfilled in the United States because employers cannot find adequately skilled workers. American employers say they are starving for workers with skills and critical thinking provided by an Associate’s Degree.

As either a stepping stone to a four-year university or as an associate’s grad qualified for a terrific job, attending community college is a very smart move. It’s why the topic of community college has been generating lots of interest here at Give Something Back, especially when we came to this realization:

If we send some of our scholars to community college for the first two years, we can afford to include a lot more students in our program.

So, for the first time in its history Give Something Back has chosen to work with three highly-respected community colleges across the United States. Parkland College is one of them and the other two are in New Jersey and in California.

I must say, I’m impressed with what I’ve been seeing at these institutions: the innovation, the leadership, the interpersonal environments, the efficiency with which they deliver education, and their ability to provide more access to low-income students. In addition, the community colleges we are partnering with all have articulation agreements, so certain courses automatically transfer toward Give Back’s four-year partner universities for full credit.

Community college is a great American education success story and one that should be celebrated. I’m very proud to be offering this option to our students at Give Back so they can get off to a great start and prepare for great future.