Going the Community College Route Can Pay Off

Residential community colleges offer the campus experience at affordable prices

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Matijevich and Kisamore stand a good chance of wearing a cap and gown at a future WVU commencement. A study of students who started two-year programs in 1995-96 found that 44 percent of those who declared a bachelor's degree to be their goal had completed the work in four years and an additional 38 percent were still enrolled, reports the National Center for Education Statistics. "Those who leave could have reasons, such as finances, or life itself may have intervened and they had to leave," says Brenda Thompson, assistant vice president for enrollment management at WVU. "Potomac State provides us with very good students."

Virginia Tech seeks out community college transfers to round out new freshman classes with women, older students, and those from low-income families. "Community colleges bring diversity," says Mildred Johnson, director of undergraduate admissions at the Blacksburg, Va., school. Virginia Tech helps transfer students flourish: Orientation lasts a day, and those needing extra help get it.

Nurturing community college transfer students may be especially important as states cut university funding or impose tuition increases, says Stephen G. Katsinas, director of the University of Alabama's Education Policy Center. The glum economy could freeze or shrink freshman classes despite a bumper crop of 18-year-olds in the pipeline. "For millions of students, community colleges are, in fact, the portal to higher education," Katsinas says.

Sunny side up. The Rumer family of Maryland testifies to this. In 2002, the mother, Annette Rumer, received a bachelor's from Frostburg State University two years after collecting an associate's degree from Allegany College of Maryland. The same year, her daughter, Sandi, graduated from Allegany with an associate's degree in human services, and her son, Chris, graduated from high school. As soon as Chris arrived on the Allegany campus, he sought out an adviser who would help him transfer to Penn State. Accepted into Penn State with a 3.7 grade-point average, Rumer moved confidently to the big leagues in 2005. He volunteered for the campus weather service, joined a severe-weather watch team, and interned at the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island. "I wouldn't say Penn State was scary. I was so busy. I was seeing my passion and my dream unfold before me," Rumer said.

Rumer received his bachelor's degree, with a 3.3 GPA, two years later. Now he works for an environmental consultant, Tetratech NUS, in Pittsburgh. Although his Penn State sheepskin left him $67,000 in debt, Rumer thinks his path helped him save money. "My friend on Long Island was in the same program as I was. He borrowed for 3½ years, and he's got $120,000 in debt."

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