I am someone who (as my father likes to say) liked school so much that he decided never to leave.
Having been in higher education (in one way or another) for the last 36 years, I am often asked how I ended up in the community college system. Except for when I was a student myself, I have spent my entire lifetime in two-year colleges. I went first to the University of Michigan as an undergraduate, later transferring to Indiana University to earn my Ph.D. I then began teaching at a community college in upstate New York and liked community colleges so much that I decided to stay.
My only regret is that I didn’t begin my own educational journey at a community college.
As a first-generation college student, I really didn’t understand higher education generally. I had a vague idea that I wanted to go to college—which my parents strongly encouraged—but I didn’t know what that would really mean. In addition, I came from a small town in northern Michigan, and I wanted nothing more than to go to a large university, leave my small town behind, and reinvent myself, making my mark on the campus as I went.
Boy, was I in for a surprise.
I was woefully unprepared for the University of Michigan: the size, the expense and the academic expectations all entirely overwhelmed me. I still remember, during orientation, sitting in a lecture hall with 400 of my classmates and being told to look to my left and my right—because only one of the three would graduate from the Big U—which sealed my freshman panic. Many of my classes were in that same lecture hall, where I sat with 300-400 other students trying desperately to understand what I gotten myself into. I made it out of my freshman year alive, but just barely.
How I wish I had known about community colleges like Lincoln Land. Small class sizes, supportive faculty who see teaching as their life’s calling (not as a distraction from research) and affordable tuition would have made my first years of college much more productive.
That’s why, as an educator, I am proud to work for Lincoln Land Community College and to promote the community college system nationally. We give students a supportive and affordable option to begin or to restart their journey through college. Students at LLCC transfer to four-year institutions across Illinois and elsewhere, and when they get to their destination, they succeed by earning high grades and graduating at rates that parallel those of students who begin at a larger university. Some students earn technical degrees and move directly into the workforce. No matter which of these paths they choose, they complete their journey with much less debt than those who made the choice I did to go directly to university.
I am thankful that my career has taken me through the community college system and landed me at LLCC. I only wish I had started at a college like this myself.