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Alex, College & Community College

Alex at Petersburg

America has most of the world’s top universities, but what really stands out about our country is the depth and breadth of opportunity on offer.   You don’t have to be in a big city or an important capital to find a first-class education and you don’t even have to be in college to get started.  Community colleges are increasingly filling roles as not only technical trainers but also launching pads for academic careers.

There was a good article about it in the Washington Post.

I am biased.  Alex graduated from Northern Virginia Community College and will start as a junior at James Madison University next month.  But that also gives me some special insights into the subject.  I won’t say Alex is typical of all students, but let me tell a little about college and community college with him in mind.

Alex didn’t have a plan when he graduated from HS. He had not been an enthusiastic student and his mother and I made the hard decision NOT to push him right into college. I made that mistake myself long ago. All I did was drink beer (the drinking age was eighteen back then) and my 1.60 GPA in my first year at UWSP continues to haunt me to this day.

Alex avoided that.  After HS, he went to work at the local Multiplex.  It was a really crappy job, but he soon did better, moving to Home Depot, which treats its employees well. He has continued to work there and won the respect of his bosses and co-workers. This experience will serve him well in future.  It disturbs me that many college students have never actually done any real work.

After a few months, he decided to start community college while continuing to work part time.   Community college makes the transition from work to study easy.  Tuition is cheap and students can take a few courses at a time.  Alex eased in and started to get good grades.

Not everybody is ready to go to college at eighteen. I wasn't, neither was Alex. I think this is especially true of boys.   They tend to be less interested in academics and a little more rambunctious. They might need a little more time.  It is certainly out of style to say, “Boys will be boys” and it is not true of all boys, but it is indeed generally true.  They get clobbered when they are pushed too soon into some situations and sometimes they don’t recover.  Alex matured and after passage of time, he was ready to do well.  To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.” The old wisdom makes sense.  Sometimes waiting is best, but it hard.

No size fits all. But I think we would be well served to rethink college entrance in general.  I don’t think it is possible to make a good admissions decisions when a kid is eighteen years old. An eighteen-year-old is largely the product of his/her parents.  A couple years later you get a better look at the adult.  AND the kids make better choices. A couple years make a big difference at this time.

It might be better to start most kids in community colleges and then let them move on to university as their demonstrated talents and now better informed choices indicate.    

Alex also saved me the big bucks.  Community college is about half the cost of State schools and Alex lived at home. 

Now let me shift to the other side. I am glad that Alex is going away to school.  I think it is important that kids NOT live at home the whole time.  They learn a lot from living with other young people and being away from home. And as I wrote a few paragraphs above, one size does not fit all. Mariza and Espen went right to college after HS and Mariza was only seventeen (she skipped second grade).

So I am glad that we have options. America is the land of opportunity because it is also the land of second and third chances.  There are many roads to success and lots of time to take them. 


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