Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Great Place to Start

I recently read an article about a significant jump in students completing their GED and the fact that a large percentage of them indicated that the main reason for taking the GED was a "dissatisfaction with high school." This reminded me of my own high school experience - it was good, I guess. I was fortunate to have nice teachers and we took pride in our district. The top students in our class went to Brown, Swarthmore, Michigan, and other highly regarded schools. But I look back on that experience and think of myself as fairly disengaged, with my share of study halls my senior year. Unlike some of my friends, I lacked a laser focus on preparing for college and ended up falling short of graduating in the top 10% of my class of 265. Yet years later, I found myself walking across the stage in Crisler Arena, accepting a doctoral degree from the number one ranked higher education administration program in the country at The University of Michigan. I connect those two experiences with one decision upon high school graduation - to attend Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan, 18 miles from my home where I found confidence and direction.

The selling points for me were that the classes were smaller; instruction would come from those that were actually teaching the class, not from a graduate student working for a 'teacher of record'; the campus was small enough that I wasn't intimidated; the price was right; and most importantly, I knew all my classes would transfer to one of five universities that had good reputations and programs. I came to find truth in their advertising. Some of my classes were smaller than what I had in high school, so it was easy to participate in class discussions and I felt comfortable - perhaps for the first time - with learning. My English instructor was able to transfer his passion for the art of "word choice" to me; my history professor introduced me to the importance of asking "why" things happen instead of just memorizing the "what"; and my psychology instructor taught me the meaning of academic standards when she gave me a B (that I earned) when I was expecting an A.

The final highlight to my community college experience was when all 31 of my credits transferred to the university of my choice. I finished my Bachelor's degree three years later and when I found my laser focus on a career, it was aimed squarely at the very environment that gave me such a good start. If a community college was that special a place to me as a student, I reasoned, it was likely to be a special place to work. Looking back I never imagined how true that could be. Having worked in community colleges in three other states, I now know why more than 50% of all students enrolled in college in this country are enrolled in community colleges. All of the outstanding characteristics that drew me into a community college classroom are evident here at MVCC - making it a great place to begin...or begin again.

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