Following President Barack Obama’s announcement of America’s College Promise, community college students across the country have come forward to share stories and show support for the institutions that set them on a path to success in school and in life.
Perhaps the most famous of these accounts is from Tom Hanks (read our full commentary on his story here). The actor spoke of his journey from being an underachieving high school graduate to becoming a young adult inspired by philosophy and the arts. Hanks credits his alma mater, Chabot College, for planting the seed that blossomed into the film career we all know.
For nearly 14 million Americans today, community colleges opened their doors to students when other institutions were too exclusive or too expensive, providing the tools needed to launch a successful career. But don’t take our word for it. Hear from the students themselves.
- Magin LaSov Gregg’s mother was a single parent facing chronic health challenges. She enrolled in courses at her local community college because she was determined to seek a career that would support her needs and those of her family. Like Gregg’s mother, many of our students are working parents who have returned to school in the hopes of securing a better job and a brighter future for their children. In Gregg’s own words: “Community college changed my mom’s life — and mine.” That’s why we are working hard to close the American skills gap by designing programs that give our students the practical skills they need to secure available, high-demand positions in today’s job market.
- Casey Randazzo was a high school student with big dreams, but with what she called “inconsistent” academic results. Despite this challenge, Randazzo saw the value community college could bring by setting her on a path to her higher education goals. Through the courses she took at Raritan Valley Community College, Randazzo developed the confidence and skills she needed to apply to, and eventually graduate from, Cornell University. Randazzo’s own experience of transforming from a high school student with an uncertain future to an Ivy-league graduate inspired her to go on to work with students from low-income backgrounds who were struggling academically — students who have the potential to thrive but need extra support, just as Randazzo needed. We, too, know that every student has the capacity to flourish, and that’s why we continue to promote partnerships with K–12 schools across the country, to encourage college readiness. It is our responsibility to equip young Americans with the resources they need to reach their educational goals, whatever they may be.
- Mariah Birnbaum was an A student in high school, but after her first semester at the University of Nevada, Reno, she found herself struggling to keep up with mounting tuition costs. Determined to continue her studies, Birnbaum took on a part-time job and enrolled in community college. As is the case for many of our students across the country, the cost of certain higher-education institutions can become a barrier to completion. But with tuition for a community college often 50 percent lower than for a four-year college or university, we provide students from all backgrounds access to an education that they can afford. As a country, we can still do more to ensure that all students have equal access to the American Dream. That’s why we will continue to advocate for Congress to support America’s College Promise.
Regardless of the circumstances that bring students to our doors, we as community college leaders must commit to creating supportive educational environments in which all students can thrive. In the words of Casey Randazzo, “The tenacity I gained over those two years [of community college] enabled me to face the odds and flourish.”