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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Students Grade Community Colleges

Here’s what some students in the Valley had to say about their choice to attend college close to home:
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Jesse Ewald, 20, of Plattekill, is majoring in adolescent education and is in his second year at Ulster County Community College. “My plan is to transfer to SUNY New Paltz,” he says. “I didn’t see the sense in going away for two years, just to come back home. Also, my mother is an Ulster alumna, and my grandma is a SUNY New Paltz alumna.” Jesse, an Eagle Scout, is committed to his role as an assistant scoutmaster. “That played a major role in my decision to stay near home; I wanted to stay active in my troop.” The most challenging part of attending Ulster? “The 40-minute drive there and back.” He adds: “I didn’t choose to go to UCCC because of the economy. The fact that I can get a great, affordable education at a beautiful campus is a plus, but not the main factor. In light of our current economic problems in the country, however, I’m extremely happy that I made the decision I did. I have been hearing horror stories about students at other colleges not being able to receive loans or financial aid.”

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For financial reasons, September Bembry of Chatham couldn’t go to her first-choice school, John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. “So I chose Columbia-Greene instead,” she says. “They took the time to sit down and talk to me. I felt welcomed and comfortable.” She’s aiming for an associate’s degree in criminal justice, followed by a transfer to John Jay or another SUNY school. Another plus: “Being in a rural environment, it’s quiet and tranquil here, so I can focus on my studies,” she says.

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Michelle Bonsu, 23, graduated from Rockland Community College as an honors student in 2006 and went on to get a bachelor’s in history at Georgetown University two years later. She’ll soon start a paralegal job in New York City, and plans to eventually attend law school. “For me, it was a great choice to go to school near home,” Bonsu says. “I’d been through boarding schools and away from home since I was 13. Going to a local school and living back at home gave me a chance to reconnect with my family and Rockland County.” She especially liked the mentorship program at RCC, where she worked closely with faculty. “I even got to know Cliff Wood, the college president, through the program. There aren’t many schools where you can do that.”

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Wesley Tunison, a Columbia-Greene liberal arts major who got his degree in December, says a community college can be a great stepping-stone to a career — and he’s got his sights set on the theater. He’s been accepted to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Manhattan. “Mostly I chose Columbia-Greene for academic reasons,” he says. “I felt I could receive the same high-quality college experience compared to any other SUNY school. By attending C-GCC, I didn’t lose any opportunities, but rather, I gained. By staying in the area, I became involved in exciting local stage productions in addition to classes, which helped my chances of getting accepted to AMDA in the city.”

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Mark Schaefer, 22, of Salt Point, says, “I wasn’t the best student in high school, and I didn’t take my SATs.” But he enrolled in Dutchess Community College, fulfilled his required subjects, and transferred to SUNY New Paltz, where he’s a junior. Mark calls it a good move. “I live at home, so I don’t have to pay for rent or food. True, it might be nice to have the experience of actually living at a four-year school, but I’m happy at home. And since I also have a job while I go to school, it’s hard to have time to hang out at school anyway.” He’s now focused on the SUNY New Paltz creative writing program and hopes to launch a screenwriting career.

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Brittany Kelly of Nanuet first set out to college at the University of Rhode Island with expectations common to many freshmen. “I went with a friend, thinking we could room together and have a lot of fun,” she says. “But for the amount of money it was costing me to be there, it just wasn’t worth it.” Isolation was a factor, too. “There was nothing to do because half of the kids lived nearby and went home on the weekends.” So she decided to transfer to Rockland Community College. “I heard there was an honors program, and the school is 10 minutes away from my house. I really like the small class sizes here,” says Brittany, who plans to get her associate’s degree at Rockland “while I decide where I want to go for my last two years of undergraduate school.”

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Patrice Wiley, 20, of Middletown, is a senior at Orange County Community College whose double major in liberal arts includes math, science, English, and history courses. “I’m the kind of person who likes to try things out first; I didn’t want to leave the nest right away, so I’m glad school is close to home,” she says. Financial aid covers tuition and books, and a work-study program “puts a little extra change in my pocket,” says Patrice, who is also active in extracurricular events, including serving as president of the Student Board of Activities. “Before I came to college, some people would say that a community college is easy, that it’s a place where you can just chill and have fun. But if you really get involved, it’s about hard knocks; it really pushes you to the limit and prepares you for life. I’m really grateful for the chance to come to a community college.”

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Kathryn McBride, 21, is wrapping up studies at Ulster County Community College and plans to transfer to Marist in the spring to study psychology. “The idea of going away to college never appealed to me. I’m close to my family and do best in familiar surroundings,” she says. “I know my way around the area and have a solid support system of family and friends nearby.” Her decision wasn’t based on economics. “I was attending UCCC before the economic crisis hit. However, I would say that if someone is being deterred from a school of choice based on economic hardship, UCCC is a great place to start. It can help you transfer smoothly; they have many agreements with other colleges and universities, if you decide to do so.”

Alma Matters
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 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


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