Community Pride: How One Community College Gets a Laugh from NBC’s “Community”

By Jon Wurtmann

Everyone loves a good laugh.  That’s why the writers at NBC dreamed up the new primetime comedy “Community.”  The show depicts the mythical and somewhat dysfunctional Greendale Community College as the setting for an odd mixture of misfits including the legendary Chevy Chase.  Each week, the show follows the exploits of a core group of students who have formed a study group.

And while all the jokes are at the expense of the character of community colleges and their students, it’s all in good fun.  Although some students at Adirondack Community College located in Queensbury, NY  thought that the premise was a little off-putting.  “We’re serious students here, in well-respected programs, working toward degrees,” says sophomore Stacie Hopkins, “I’m earning my associates degree in nursing, and the program here at ACC is one of the most respected in the state, so ‘Community’ doesn’t really reflect this ‘community.’”

Mark Parfitt, Director of Marketing and Community Relations at ACC saw an opportunity to put some perspective on the issue.  He dreamed up a series of “discussion ads” that ran in the New York Capital Region newspapers when the show launched last September.  He envisioned the campaign as a way to get out in front of the issue, and put a positive spin on the discussion.  Parfitt recalled how the city of Scranton, PA embraced the notoriety from the NBC show “The Office.”  NBC chose Scranton as the show location for its tired look and lackluster reputation, but Scranton has turned the joke into a million-dollar tourism business by turning the guffaws into greenbacks.

The Adirondack Community College ads welcomed the show “Community” as a way to put the spotlight on community colleges, and ACC welcomed the critical scrutiny.  Part of the text of one of the ACC ads is as follows:

Why are we so calm? Because we know that a world in which lower standards apply to community colleges is the same world in which aliens take over Manhattan and people fall in love with vampires. It's creative entertainment. And we've always embraced creativity — that's one of the reasons so many students come to us to study writing, theater, music, photography, graphic design, and more.

The ACC ads were then sent out to local media venues as a press release, and got further pick-up from TV stations such as the local NBC affiliate, WNYT, as well as the Schenectady Gazette, and nationally on the higher education website 

“This was an excellent opportunity for ACC to lead any discussion about community colleges.  The local community loved it.  We heard a lot of positive response, from the town, local employers, and the students,” said Parfitt.  “And of course, the discussion continues, and we’ve gained lots of exposure!”

Adirondack Community College (ACC) is one of the State University of New York Community Colleges, offering associates degrees and certification courses.  With its proximity to the Adirondacks and sporting and tourism areas like Saratoga Springs and Lake George, ACC has developed innovative course offerings in both culinary arts and adventure sports.

One of the more interesting developments at ACC, is their new Buckley Bryan, Jr. Regional Higher Education Center, where students can earn a four-year degree through ACC’s partners, SUNY Plattsburgh and Empire State College.  Students are thus able to earn four-year degrees from respected SUNY colleges while attending all their classes locally, at the ACC campus.  Traditionally, community colleges associated with the state’s university system allow students to matriculate into four year programs at the individual state campuses after the successful completion of their Associates degree. 

As far as the media exposure from the show “Community,” ACC has the last laugh.

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