Staying Home to Go to College
Community colleges make the grade for Valley students looking to save a little cash and prepare for their careers — without sacrificing the A-plus education
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Local community colleges are also making use of their honors programs to lure bright students. Both UCCC and DCC offer free two-year tuition and acceptance into their honors program to any county student who graduates in the top 10 percent of his or her high school class. The OCCC honors program offers similar perks, including free tuition for 10 of the county’s top graduates, a guest lecture series, and an honors student lounge. The school also requires all students to complete a community service component, which is intended in part to make graduates more appealing to transfer institutions. (Motivated students should note that Vassar College offers an all-expenses-paid “exploring transfer” program to first-generation college students. The aim is to introduce them to the possibilities of transferring to a wide range of four-year institutions.)
Allen Kovler, director of public relations at Columbia-Greene Community College, points out that the more intimate, less-intimidating educational environment at community colleges tends to encourage student-teacher interaction, and helps students bloom. “Small classes give students the nurturing they need to succeed,” he says. Margaret Carlon, a public relations associate at Columbia-Greene, agrees that kids at a smaller school can thrive when they’re more than just an anonymous face in a crowded lecture hall. “College is a big adjustment, and many students benefit from staying closer to home in a supportive learning environment for the first couple of years,” she says.
“Most people don’t realize that community colleges are America’s contribution to higher education,” says Dr. Cliff L. Wood, president of Rockland Community College (RCC). “They were created in the U.S. after World War II so everyone could have reasonable commuter access to higher education. Community colleges have done just that — it’s one of the things I think is so wonderful about them, in terms of opportunities they offer to the public.”
RCC, like other community colleges, draws a varied student body. “The diversity is exciting,” says Wood. “We have local people from all walks of life, and international students. This gives students exposure to people whose backgrounds are very different from their own; it’s really a gift.”
It’s not just community colleges that are attracting more local students. Four-year schools in the Valley — particularly state schools — are also noting an uptick in students choosing to attend school close to home.
“With the economic downturn, we’re certainly seeing more students staying in the area,” says Lisa Jones, dean of undergraduate admissions at SUNY New Paltz. “We get students from all around the Hudson Valley, and we’re seeing more transfers from Dutchess, Orange, Ulster, Rockland, and Sullivan county colleges,” she says. “In some instances, students might have first been set on attending a private school elsewhere. But when they see that SUNY New Paltz offers the same programs, and we’re about the same size — but at a more reasonable price — they often decide to come here.”
“In this economic climate, parents are worried,” says Susan Mead. “They say that financial investments they’d planned to use for their children’s college are losing value. Even plans they’d had for their son or daughter to go to a state university might not be as affordable as they’d hoped.”
But the situation isn’t totally dire, Mead stresses. “Everything you hear in the economy about student loans drying up, that’s not from the federal perspective; it’s from the private student-loan market. And although those options are shrinking, they’re not gone altogether.”
Two federally backed tuition-assistance programs — Stafford loans and Perkins loans — are available to most students, she says. Also, New York State offers one of the more generous tuition-assistance programs, known as TAP. “It’s a grant based on a family’s state net taxable income. So there are options to explore when it comes to tuition assistance,” she says.
Yet community college tuition is so reasonable, relatively speaking, “that a lot of our students choose not to take out loans while they’re here,” says Mead. “Instead, they pay with money they saved from working or from birthdays or graduation. It’s much more affordable for them not to be saddled with student debt.” And Mead vouches for the educational quality at DCC: “My daughter is an honor student at Dutchess. I wouldn’t send her here if it wasn’t a good place to be.”
Graduates, we all know a picture is worth a thousand words — so show us some of your most memorable photos from your college days in the Hudson Valley. Our favorite picks could be shown on www.hvmag.com. Please include your name and hometown, college, major, graduation year, and a few lines about your photo (be sure to identify yourself). Send your digital images to firstname.lastname@example.org.