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Why Community College is the Right Choice

By Dr. Robin Lilienthal, Provost of Marshalltown Community College and Iowa Valley Grinnell

Today’s students have more options than ever before, making the college decision difficult. Students have long been encouraged to go to college so they can land a great job and build a secure future. This mentality has produced a generation of students who are overqualified for the local job market. Students are starting to think twice about taking on college loans – some 44 million students are responsible for over $1.6 trillion dollars in student debt.

There is a better way to approach higher education. Community colleges (like Marshalltown Community College and Iowa Valley Grinnell) can make college more affordable and attainable for all. We provide over $1.3 million in scholarships and financial aid, keeping our tuition and fees affordable for almost every family. We also offer funding opportunities like the Last Dollar Scholarship, which will cover every last dollar of a student’s financial need – including tuition, housing, books and fees – for students who study for certain high-demand careers.

Our average class size has a 17:1 student to instructor ratio. Students don’t get lost in large lecture halls taught by teaching assistants; they are taught by professors who care about their success. We know that we provide the first college experience for many families so we provide resources for first-generation college students. We work hard to provide the tools a student will need to be successful here, and in their next phase.

Don’t mistake our coursework as the “easy way out” for students. Our classes have the same rigor as classes taught at colleges or universities around the state. We have transfer agreements in place with the regent universities, meaning they have reviewed our courses and have approved the academic quality of our courses and teaching methods. The difference? Our students will have the opportunity to get hands-on in their first two years rather than waiting until their junior or senior year at a four-year school.

If a student isn’t sure if college is right for them, but they know they need additional training for their chosen career path, we can reach those students as well. We provide focused career training programs that a student can complete in two years or less. Our career training programs are designed to align with the local workforce need, and we can provide supplemental career training to existing workforce professionals. If a student needs to learn a skill to advance to the next level, we can surely assist.

It’s for these reasons and many more that I am proud to work in the community college system. Join me in celebrating Community College Month this April. We’d encourage you to give community colleges another look.

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