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Community College is the Place to Be (The Gardner News, Oct. 30, 2015)

Nearly half of the country’s 20 million college students attend community colleges, and that should come as no surprise. Undeniably, community colleges provide the most cost-effective, high-quality option available in higher education.

A community college education is affordable, transferable and ac­cessible, making it an excellent educational value for students of all ages and backgrounds, whe­ther they plan to immediately enter their chosen career field or transfer to the public or private institution of their choice to earn a bachelor’s degree.

This year, community colleges like Mount Wachusett remain at the center of a national dialogue about our country’s higher education needs and goals, the strategic role community colleges play in boosting the economy, and their ability to provide an affordable solution to the student loan debt crisis that is now over $1 trillion.

In his State of the Union address in January, President Obama unveiled America’s College Promise, a plan would make two years of community college free for eligible students who maintain good grades and stay on track to graduate. The America’s College Promise plan, inspired by bipartisan efforts in Tennessee, Chicago, Miami and other locations, emphasizes the need to transform education priorities to avoid a critical shortage of college-educated citizens.

In July, legislation was introduced in Congress in support of this proposal. The America’s College Promise Act, which is endorsed by the American Ass­ociation of Community Colleges, would authorize $79.7 billion over the next 10 years to provide free community college tuition to eligible students. Funds would be awarded to states, which would have to apply for funding, provide a 25 percent match, and make a commitment that equals or exceeds their average spending on public higher education.

Support for this bill is gaining momentum through Heads Up America, a grassroots movement launched in September working to create a culture that celebrates community college and gives students, teachers, counselors, business owners, families and friends a role in spreading the word about the importance that greater access to higher education has on the future of the country.

Through many awareness initiatives, Heads Up America is providing opportunities to engage in discussions and highlight the positive value and impact community colleges have in their local communities. Anyone can take action by joining the movement at Heads­

While this important national dialogue continues, there are many affordable options for local residents of all ages. Sixty-five percent of all MWCC students receive some financial aid, ranging from federal, state and institutional sources, as well as assistance to help pay for tuition, fees, books, supplies, transportation and other expenses. In addition to aid coordinated for students with the assistance of MWCC’s Financial Aid office, each year the MWCC Found­ation distributes more than $260,000 in scholarship funds to help students alleviate financial burdens.

Through our long-standing partnerships with area K-12 school districts, we are making tremendous progress in helping high school students trim the cost of a college education. Our Gateway to College, Pathways Early College In­novation School, Robinson-Broad­hurst Found­ation Career Tech Scholars program and other dual enrollment programs allow students to earn transferrable college credits while completing their high school requirements. In addition, during the school year and over the summer, high school students can take college courses at a grant-funded price of $30.

This year, MWCC partnered with central Massachusetts public colleges and universities on the $30K Commitment, which allows students to earn an associate degree in high-demand fields at their local community college before transfer for a bachelor’s degree at Fitchburg State or Worcester State universities. The cost of $30,000 – or even less, depending on the amount of additional grants and scholarships received – is less than a single year at most private institutions.

Additionally, this coming year, recent high school graduates, career changers, veterans and others can still participate at no cost in our Industrial Readiness Training program, which prepares graduates for good jobs in the growing advanced manufacturing industry.

At MWCC, we believe the personal and professional advantages of obtaining a college degree are invaluable in today’s world, and that the cost of tuition should not stand in the way of achieving this goal. Stop by, and let us help you achieve your goals.

Dr. Daniel M. Asquino is president of Mount Wachusett Com­munity College

The Gardner News, Oct. 30, 2015