#FreeCommunityCollege Series - Yolanda Norman

This week, we’re running a series of posts on #FreeCommunityCollege from professionals from across the industry. The goal is to cover the basics and offer differing viewpoints to begin the conversation before our chat on the topic this Thursday at 9PM ET.

Today’s post comes from Yolanda Norman, Founder and Education and Leadership Strategist of FirstGenCollege. Read more about Yolanda here or connect with her on Twitter.

You get a degree! You get a degree!

Everybody gets a degree!

Thanks for letting me get my “Oprah moment” out because that’s exactly what I heard in my head when President Obama announced his plan to make community colleges free for all “responsible students”. For anyone who knows me, you know I am proud to be a first-generation college graduate and have a passion for educating others on the benefits of a college education. So of course, I was ecstatic to hear this great initiative and eager to learn more about how much it will cost and where the money will come from. Well, that money part… we are still waiting for as the president hasn’t revealed how this “free education” will be funded.

As we wait for more details on the money, I look forward to the growing college aspirations this will bring to those families and students who counted a college education out simply based on finances. We can certainly tell students about loans, scholarships, and grants, until we are blue in the face; however, some students can’t see past their overdue medical bills, childcare concerns, or finding a second job, much less trying to pay for college. This new plan can potentially take away some of those excuses and remind students that these two years  that were once seen as impossible may soon become an entitlement.

As excited as I am about this potential game changer, I’m also mindful of the challenges that may come along with any change. Presently, we have high school students being under matched in their college search and I’m concerned some students will take the community college option blindly rather than learn about the best option for them. Research repeatedly shows us that students who are not academically challenged at their institution have a higher chance of dropping out and not completing their degree. While community colleges may be the best option for some, my hope is that school districts will emphasize students must still do their research when deciding which school is that best fit for them individually.

Another important point to consider is the faculty. A number of adjunct faculty work at community colleges who are often less experienced than full-time faculty found at four-year institutions. Will the president’s plan include expectations about whose teaching the courses and the process of transferring credits for those students who want to move on to complete their bachelors degree? Don’t get me wrong, I support the community college environment, but there were differences in the English class taught at my university versus the English class down the street at the local community college. If community college becomes a reality for any student that wants it, my hope is that the resources and rigor found on the campuses will also receive an improvement.

On a side note, as a Tennessee native, I’m proud to know that the Tennessee Promise was one of the President’s inspirations for this vision. One of the big pieces for the TN program is there is a mentor component to it to help students stay on track and succeed. Will the President’s plan include a mentor component or will that be left up to each individual state?

The desire of community college for all is certainly a step in the right direction and I’m keeping my eyes open to see the important details of how this program will come together and ultimately change our nation for the better. Keep the conversation going by leaving me a comment on what you think and don’t forget to connect with me on Twitter (@firstgencollege). I’m all about engaging and changing our world one step at a time!

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