By Lydia Hansen
This May, I walked across the stage in cap and gown and received my associateís degree as a proud member of the RCTC class of 2018. This fall, Iíll transfer to Hamline University where Iíll be completing a bachelorís degree in creative writing and journalism, with a minor in communication studies.†
Itís a moment Iíve been anticipating for two years.†
And despite the wait, I donít regret deciding to enroll at RCTC first. I still see attending a community college as one of the best decisions of my life.
In my two years at RCTC, Iíve come to appreciate the unique position community college occupy in the world of higher education. For students who do their research, there are benefits associated with attending a two-year school that go beyond the education theyíre receiving.
The first benefit, obviously, is that itís much cheaper.†
Across the board, community colleges have lower tuition than universities. The amount students can save by spending even a semester or two at a community college before transferring to a four-year school is significant.
This was a key factor in my initial decision to enroll at RCTC. I had been eyeing Hamline University as I finished my senior year in high school, but the annual price tag of $50,000 was beyond what I could afford. I realized Iíd be borrowing nearly $90,000 if I spent four years there, even if I continued to work part time while in school.
By contrast, RCTCís price tag of $6,000 was much more achievable ó so much so that with scholarships and financial aid, I could keep building my personal savings, all while cutting two years from the time Iíd need to spend at Hamline. In the end, Iíve saved $75,000 by starting at a community college. Thatís nothing to sneeze at.
But what I didnít realize when I chose to enroll at RCTC was that attending a community college is also a great way to gain time and experience.†
Fresh out of high school, prospective college students may think they know what theyíre looking for in a college, but without actual college experience to guide them, itís a tough decision. Itís even harder to decide not only where they want to go, but what they want to study when they get there.
Now that Iíve spent time in a college environment, I know what resources and support services to look for, and I brought that experience to college visits and conversations with advisors until I found a college I knew would be an excellent fit for me. Two years ago, I could never have done that.
Additionally, when I took my first public speaking class here at RCTC, I was surprised (and delighted) to find that I loved it. I loved it so much, in fact, that Iíve graduated now with two communication certificates and plan to minor in Communication Studies at Hamline. Without the freedom to explore other areas while completing my generals at RCTC, I would never have known that communication was something I was interested in. Attending a community college helped inform my decision of where to study, but it also showed me what it was I wanted to learn about.
The third benefit of starting out at a community college is that for students who choose to pursue more advanced degrees, there are more resources available to make the transfer process less stressful.†
This is the biggest difference I see between two- and four-year schools. Four-year schools expect to retain students. The idea is that if students enroll there, thatís also where theyíll graduate.
Thatís not necessarily the case with community colleges. Schools like RCTC understand that they are just the starting point for many students. Theyíre not shocked when students transfer out ó theyíve been expecting it!
Because of that, community colleges have extra staff and resources to help students transfer credits. More importantly, they have agreements with various four-year institutions across the state, which streamline the transfer process in specific programs between community colleges and those schools. These agreements help make transfers understandable for students, so they donít waste time or effort figuring out what comes next.
As a transfer student, Iíve reaped the benefits of beginning my college career at RCTC, not just in money saved, but also in the experience Iíve gained and the opportunities made available to me here.
For those reasons, I am proud to say Iím a community college graduate.