Grantee Spotlight:  National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship

For more than a decade, Burton D. Morgan Foundation has supported NACCE in its goal to make community colleges North America’s pre-eminent source for entrepreneurship education, support, and inspiration.  NACCE provides leadership and sustainable, scalable resources to foster entrepreneurial thinking and action within the community college ecosystem.

Recently, we had the pleasure of interviewing Rebecca Corbin, NACCE’s president and CEO, to learn more about NACCE and gain insights into the important role community colleges play in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Foundation:  Can you tell us a bit about NACCE and your membership composition? 

Rebecca:  The National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE) is the nation’s leading organization focused on promoting entrepreneurship through community colleges. The association represents 300+ community and technical colleges and 2,000 faculty, staff, administrators, and presidents who serve more than three million students. We currently offer organizational, nonprofit, and individual memberships, with most of our memberships being community colleges. Our members span across the United States, plus a few in Canada, and are quite diverse in terms of rural, urban, and suburban locations, as well as student populations ranging from less than 1,000 to over 130,000. While some colleges are very advanced in their entrepreneurial journeys, others are just beginning. It’s NACCE’s role to serve and provide helpful resources, connections, funding, and professional development so that our members can accomplish their entrepreneurial goals. We are proud to have three Northeast Ohio member schools which include Cuyahoga Community College, Lakeland Community College, and Lorain County Community College.

Foundation:   Can you speak a bit about the attributes community colleges often have that allow them to serve as entrepreneurial catalysts? 

Rebecca:  Community colleges can be entrepreneurial catalysts because they are nimble enough to move quickly on opportunities and are trusted by the community. They are also plentiful throughout the United States, with 1,000+ locations to date. Most cities have a community college in a two hour or less radius. In addition, community colleges are affordable and are “open access” – meaning that students of all ages and abilities are welcome to attend. Some will go on to earn certificates or training for the skilled trades while others will transfer on to four-year universities. By instilling the entrepreneurial mindset and toolset across all programs, community colleges can continue to advance toward realizing NACCE’s vision of making community colleges North America’s pre-eminent source for entrepreneurship education, support, and inspiration. To support this work, NACCE has published three books in the past several years. The most recent publications are Impact ED: How Community College Entrepreneurship Creates Equity and Prosperity, Community Colleges as Incubators of Innovation, and The NACCE Playbook | Entrepreneurial Mindset: The New Standard for Success in Community Colleges. More details can be found at

Foundation:  How do community colleges bolster entrepreneurial ecosystems?

Rebecca:  Community colleges overall serve an older and more diverse student population. Many community college students are the first in their families to attend college, are immigrants, and in some cases are veterans. Diversity is a strength in communities and entrepreneurial endeavors. 

Foundation:  What are some practices that your member schools employ to help students practice and develop entrepreneurial skillsets while also respecting student bandwidth?

Rebecca:  Community college students often don’t fit the mold of a “traditional college student”. Oftentimes they are juggling multiple responsibilities including but not limited to full-time jobs, children or elder care, and being a first-generation college student for their families. Our members have pivoted and adapted to best serve their students in a variety of ways including:

  • Incorporating entrepreneurial mindset and skillset exercises across multiple disciplines, not just in business/entrepreneurship courses
  • Offering credit for prior learning
  • Providing mentoring and guidance services with fellow students or alumni that have similar backgrounds
  • Flexibility with course formats – i.e. online, in-person, hybrid
  • Non-credit entrepreneurial pathways that lead to stackable credentials that employers desire – getting a job is key!

Foundation:  Your 2021 conference just concluded.  What theme did you select, and why did it make sense for 2021?

Rebecca:  While the official theme for the 2021 NACCE annual conference was Entrepreneurship in America’s Heartland, the focus truly was on advancing equity and future building. We welcomed over 450 attendees from 41 states both in person in Minneapolis and virtually. We were excited to have many in-person attendees from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio, and Michigan. Both in-person and virtual attendees had the opportunity to experience the George Floyd Global Memorial through on-site guided tours as well as a virtual tour. We set up an innovation studio on site that was staffed by college faculty and students that allowed participants to reflect on their experience and to consider how they might transform the opportunity into action on their college campuses and in their communities. At the conference, we also launched The NACCE Playbook Volume One that provides practical information for college presidents and their staff to incorporate entrepreneurship into their planning strategies. On the last day of our conference, we held a Future Building Summit that was sponsored by the Kauffman Foundation and featured 35 speakers including Deborah Hoover, CEO of Burton D. Morgan Foundation. Through interactive sessions on site and virtually we ideated about how to expand our impact in entrepreneurship and equity across the nation. NACCE’s podcast, Making Our Way Forward, and our books provided a framework for the discussion and plans moving forward.

Foundation:  How has entrepreneurship education in the community college space evolved since NACCE’s establishment in 2002? 

Rebecca:  The idea for NACCE started in 1999 at Springfield Technical Community College (MA) as an Entrepreneurial Institute that included a student incubator, a college, a high school, and K-8 entrepreneurship educational programs. As the Institute grew in popularity, the idea of a national association that would support and grow this emerging work was hatched and NACCE was born. Our first annual conference was held in 2002, entrepreneurship projects were funded at community colleges across the country, and entrepreneurship at community colleges continued to grow. Today, entrepreneurship education has expanded to include mindset AND toolset training. Students are taught less about lengthy business plans and more about how to think and innovate. The key is learning by doing! While some of the fundamentals of entrepreneurship education will always be important, educators and colleges have learned that they must pivot, take risks, and encourage entrepreneurial action for their student and community entrepreneurs to thrive in our ever-changing world.

Foundation:  The rise of individuals participating in the gig economy is rapidly growing, due in part to COVID-19.  How will community colleges step in and prepare students to make the most of it?

Rebecca:  The gig economy has been growing over time and has accelerated even more during the pandemic and economic recession. As people leave jobs for a variety of reasons, they are opting to create new businesses or participate in the gig economy which might include providing needed services to multiple clients instead of serving as a full-time or part-time employee for one organization. To support the growing gig economy, many community colleges across the nation are providing training, mentoring and seed funding to community college students. One example of a successful program is California Community Colleges’ career pathways program entitled, “Self-Employment Pathways in the Gig Economy.” This pathway includes three courses that focus on the fundamentals of becoming a small business owner, as well as a work-study course where students earn credit for working in their own business under the guidance of a faculty mentor or advisor. Another example is San Diego Continuing Education’s 50-hour noncredit course called “Making Money in the Gig Economy” where students study independent, local business owners and then develop an action plan for their own businesses. Skills assessments and training certification guidance are provided for next steps forward. More details about these two examples and more can be found here: