By Haeli Maas
Growing up I always thought I would be at a four-year university, a member of a sorority, and meeting my best friend in the dorms.
I dreamt in middle school of all the good times I would have attending to the football games, walking around campus, and going out on Friday nights with my friends.
When high school came around and college became a real, tangible thing, I started to realize how much this “dream college experience” would cost me. At an early age I figured out what money meant to me, and I knew that by attending a four-year university I would be putting myself in a lot of debt. My GPA wasn’t as high as it could have been coming out of high school, so the scholarship opportunities available to me were slim. I had to decide quickly what path I wanted to take in my life to become successful and try to keep my debt at a minimum.
Enter Hutchinson Community College. By junior year of high school, I was thinking pretty seriously about attending a community college for the first two years of my education. There had been admissions representatives at my high school for the different community colleges in Kansas, and I decided to visit Hutchinson Community College. Note: I did NOT want to end up at a community college.
From early on, it was hammered into my head that community colleges gave you sub-par education for a cheap price tag, and were not viable options when it comes to going to a “good” college (i.e. a four-year). I did not enter my visit with the idea that I wanted to end up at a community college because I felt that people would think that I was unable to make it at a four-year. But either way, I decided to visit HCC and see what it would offer.
During my visit, I noticed that the college wasn’t very different from a 4-year, except maybe in size. It offered all the same classes, all of the same extracurriculars, and all the same things you would find at a state school. While I liked that it would offer the same experience, I made my decision the moment I saw the cost breakdown for tuition. Tuition was half of what it costs to go to a four-year, and it was closer to home so I wouldn’t have to pay to live on campus. I made my decision because it was what made sense for me financially, but in the back of my mind I still believed that I was missing out on something by going to a community college. I found that it was far from the truth.
Coming to a community college was an amazing choice for me financially, but I realized that there is no difference between a four-year and two-year other than class size.
The community college track offered a 17:1 student-teacher ratio, while a general education class at a four-year had lecture halls with over 100 students in them. My teachers know my name, they know how well I do, and they are willing to help me out when I need it. I am being taught by someone with a doctorate in their field, instead of a teaching assistant. I am learning the material in my classes because I am encouraged to ask questions.
I realized that the quality of my education at a two-year was not the same: it was actually better. Because most people who go to two-years are looking to transfer, all of the advisors have information on what classes are required at the four-year of your choice and can make a plan that allows you to take all of the classes you can at a two-year (for half the cost) that still transfer to a four-year. I met new people just like I would at a university, and I am still having a good experience.
The big difference is: now that it is time for me to transfer to the University of Kansas in the Spring, I have no debt. None at all. I owe nothing for the first two years of my education. Most universities offer scholarships for transfer students, and because I took my schooling more seriously at the college level, I was able to receive the highest amount of money that they offer.
Though I do have to take out my first student loan, I can do so knowing that I will not have four years’ worth of debt by the time I graduate, but only two. I see every day the stigma that surrounds community colleges, but the reality is that it is the same level of education that you receive at a university, and you save thousands of dollars. I am proud to have come here because it was a decision that safeguarded my future and opened up opportunities to me that would not have been available if I had let my emotions decide my fate.