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Debunking the Community College Myth

Local author writes guide for prospective students.

Who goes to a community college and why?

“Community colleges are the backbone of this country’s educational system and are helping the nation to meet the competitive demands of the 21st century,” Alexandria resident Susan Stafford wrote in her recent book, “Community College, Is It Right For You?”

Stafford said the expectations of a community college are the same as that of a four-year institution. No matter what kind of school a person attends, she said the goal is to teach students what they will need to know for their future.

“It really is college, not an extended version of high school,” Stafford said.

Community college can lead to a job or provide enough credits to transfer to a four-year institution.

Genevieve Loutinsky, a T.C. Williams graduate, started going to Northern Virginia Community College her senior year of high school. Because she only needed four more classes to graduate, she was able to dual-enroll.

After taking a full course load the summer after graduation, as well as that fall semester, she was able to complete an associate’s degree in business management and liberal studies.

“NOVA allowed high school students to attend and had flexible class scheduling, which was good because I was also working at a local restaurant at the time,” Loutinsky said.

She also said she was able to save a lot of money and could take a broad range of courses.

“Also, a lot of professors have jobs in the ‘real world’ instead of just being academics, so they bring a lot of that into the classroom,” she said.

Loutinsky transferred to George Mason University in the spring and is working on a bachelor of science in management with a minor in economics.

THE JACK KENT COOKE FOUNDATION, based in Fairfax County, provides an undergraduate transfer scholarship to community college students for up to $30,000 per year.

It is the largest nationwide private scholarship to community college transfers.

Vice-president Joshua Wyner of the foundation said this scholarship displaces the loans a student would have to take out at a four-year institution.

“We want to bridge their need and the aid they will get from the school,” Wyner said.

Forty students this year received the scholarship, and Wyner said 50 will be awarded next year. Currently, the foundation is funding 100 students. The scholarship can be renewed for two to three years, depending on how long it takes for the student to complete their degree.

Students are nominated by their college on the basis of exceptional academic ability, a broad set of interests, financial need, exceptional levels of achievement and a will to succeed.

Wyner said Jack Kent Cooke, the organization’s late founder, never received a college education and was worth over $1 billion when he died.

“This is a testament to his desire to succeed,” Wyner said, “as well as a willingness to overcome obstacles.”

The scholarships have uncovered talent for top colleges, employers and society, Wyner said.

“They can become future leaders in any field,” Wyner said.

STAFFORD WROTE THE BOOK because she wanted to focus on an area where there was a need for information. She said she wanted to provide a guide to explain community colleges and their benefits.

“It’s convenient, accessible and affordable,” Stafford said. “As the price of college increases, more people will find they can get an education in their own backyard.”

In addition to state schools being about twice as expensive, other benefits include a broad choice of curriculum, vocational and technical training to enter the workforce, certificates or degrees to enter the workforce, small class size, personal attention from professors and flexible class schedules.

However, students at community colleges will find expectations are the same as at a four-year institution, Stafford said.

“It’s an independent learning environment,” she said. “You have to be responsible for your courses. The professor’s not going to check up on you.”

A diverse range of students enter community college, Stafford said. Some want to stay close to home and some want to go somewhere that is affordable. Some students want to get the academic knowledge that will serve as a foundation for entering a university. For others, it helps them decide if they want to enter the workforce right away and gives them those technical and vocational skills.

For students just out of high school, Stafford said community college helps them figure out if they are ready both academically and socially for college.

Older students will find they are the major population at a community college. Due to this, community colleges offer flexible schedules with courses in the evenings and even on the weekends.

“You can never go wrong going to community college,” Stafford said. “It’s a good start to an educational career and whatever career path you choose.”

“Community College, Is It Right For You?” can be purchased online through Amazon.com, Wiley Publishing and Barnes & Noble. It will also soon be available for electronic download through Amazon.com.