The Path Ahead – Smart Options for Higher Education
When I was young, I was a pretty smart kid — good grades, reasonably well behaved, and interested in someday going to college. But I was a first-generation college student and my family didn’t have the resources to help me on my way.
Thanks to scholarships and part-time jobs, I was able to start at my local community college and go on to earn bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees at state universities without taking out any loans until grad school.
It’s a lot harder to do that today. Public colleges receive much less funding from the cities and states that support them, and the cost of going to college has risen significantly.
For most people, earning a degree is still worth it since college graduates are much more likely to be employed and earn more — about $1 million over their lifetime than those with just a high school diploma. A college degree, for most people, is the ticket to the middle class in America, and overwhelmingly worth the investment when it’s done right. So how do you do it right?
Here is some practical advice:
Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be
For more than 20 years, I’ve advised students and families that the college they attend is far less important than attending and completing a degree. With very few exceptions, future employers are more interested in reading your resume, noting that you have that degree from an accredited institution of higher learning and seeing that you demonstrate suitable knowledge and skills, than they are in knowing that your sheepskin comes from a selective Ivy League institution.
The Harvards, Stanfords and Yales of the world are wonderful places. If you get in and can afford the experience without putting yourself in debt for much of your adult life, that’s fantastic. If not, don’t despair! There are many other ways to go.
Get a Jump on Early College
Northern Essex Community College, like many colleges around the state, regularly partners with area high schools to offer “Early College” experiences that allow students to earn college credits — even a full associate’s degree — while they are still in high school. Each Early College experience is different, but all offer reduced costs to students and families. Credits earned are usually transferable to both public and private four-year colleges. Check with your local high school or call NECC to learn more.
Start at a Community College
You can start at a community college and transfer anywhere you want, even to those prestigious private colleges mentioned earlier. You end up earning the degree from a four-year school and saving a bundle of money.
As part of the “Commonwealth Commitment,” for example, a student can earn a bachelor’s degree from UMass Lowell for $27,907 (that’s the total cost without financial aid, which may reduce it even further) by starting at Northern Essex. Visit the state’s Department of Higher Education transfer website at Mass.edu/MassTransfer for info.
Get Creative with the “Communiversity”
Recognizing that most students today attend a college not too far from home, NECC and other community colleges have begun partnering with public and private four-year colleges to offer bachelor’s degree completion programs on their campuses, usually at reduced costs. For example, students can complete bachelor’s degrees in public health or nursing with Regis College, or in information technology, graphic design or music business with Vermont’s Lyndon State College, right on our Lawrence campus. This saves time, travel and quite a bit of money.
A college education today is still a valuable investment — most good jobs require it. But there are many ways to get that degree, have a meaningful experience and save a lot along the way.
Lane Glenn is the president of Northern Essex Community College, with campuses in Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass. He writes “Running the Campus,” a blog featuring stories and perspectives on leadership, higher education and going the extra mile at President.necc.mass.edu.