By Sherry Sokolowski
While many students dream of heading off to a four-year university immediately after their high school graduation, many Grand Rapids Community College students have warmed up to the benefits of a local and low-cost educational option and recommend it to their peers for a variety of reasons.
“Community colleges are the answer to the national issue around college debt. We cut the price significantly for students who finish a two-year degree then move on to a university. Our cost is lower, our class sizes are smaller, and our transfer processes are solid in providing opportunities for students to move on to their next institution,” wrote President Bill Pink in an email to The Collegiate.
“And, we also do incredible work in addressing the needs of employers across our region by providing great career/technical programs for living-wage jobs and career paths.”
There are so many experiences presented to students at a community college. The smaller classroom sizes allow for students to get to know their instructors, which is especially helpful in a college setting. Students are directly able to connect with their college’s leadership and administration officials as well as participate in all sorts of student organizations.
“GRCC has a lot of student organizations which hold different types of events in which I had participated every time I could,” said GRCC student Natalie Alvarado, age 30, from Grand Rapids. “If you ask me, I think I have exceeded my college experience because thanks to these programs and organizations, I’m all covered with infinite college experience.”
Community college students are also provided with an abundance of opportunities to help further their career paths. For example, right on GRCC’s campus, there is a Ferris State University campus that allows students to take Ferris classes. In some instances, students can complete their bachelor’s degrees right here in Grand Rapids or they can do what is known as a “3+1” program to save a great deal of money.
The financial benefits of community college are some of the foremost reasons a student chooses to attend. Community colleges allow students to graduate debt-free, which takes a huge load of stress off students both in the present and in the future. They can continue to progress through their education without being bogged down by student loans.
Looking solely at tuition rates in Michigan the average cost annually for public universities is $12,810, compared to a mere $3,570 at community colleges, according to educationdata.org. These totals do not account for the thousands of dollars for room and board.
“I wasn’t sure what kind of career I wanted to pursue yet, and then COVID happened and I became even more unsure,” said GRCC student Hudson Knapp. “So I decided to take a ‘gap-year’, but also take some classes that could potentially transfer. I definitely think the cost of classes is a big benefit. I don’t feel like I’m wasting my time or money, which is really important.”
Since tuition is extensively cheaper at a community college, it gives students more flexibility when deciding what they want to study. Students have more room to take classes to truly figure out what degree they want to pursue.
“I am glad that I chose GRCC because it’s great for students who are unsure of what they want to do as a career,” said Hannah Kragt, a 19-year-old GRCC student from Byron Center. “Advisors are able to help you pick out classes that interest you and could possibly become a potential career.”
The flexibility of a community college draws in a lot of students who have other external responsibilities like work or children. For the Fall 2020 semester here at Grand Rapids Community College, almost 70% of students were part-time, according to enrollment reports.
“The biggest benefit for me has been the flexibility of my schedule,” said Audrey Meyering, a GRCC student. “Last semester I had been able to work part-time and take 12 credits, while also running on the cross country team.”
When asked about the flexibility of community college, President Pink stated in an email: “Two words…we aim to be relevant and responsive to our students, our community, and to each other. This means that our students have flexibility in programs, offerings, delivery models, and frequency of offerings. The flexibility means that students from our many diverse backgrounds (ethnicities, age, etc.) should be able to access the community’s college!”