Happy Independence Day! While Americans may sometimes take our freedoms for granted, the Fourth of July is a good time to reflect upon the liberties we enjoy one of which is education. In many countries, education is not available at all, and in some, it is limited to only a select few. Here in the USA, education is commonly accessible. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, community colleges serve close to half of the undergraduate students in the United States. Garden City Community College has a long tradition of providing high-quality postsecondary education to Finney County and southwest Kansas.

Garden City Community College was created by a Finney County vote that passed by a 2-1 margin on April 1, 1919. This wide margin reflected the community's passion for providing citizens with the opportunity to further their education right at home. At the time, the two main objectives listed for what was then the "junior college" were:

Developing a right attitude and social cooperation, through motivation and socialization

Fruitful knowledge and applied skill, through instruction and training.

Although GCCC has adapted and transformed many times in the last 94 years, the current GCCC mission statement still supports those original objectives:

"GCCC exists to produce positive contributors to the economic and social well-being of society."

The college opened with one vocational and five academic departments as part of the Garden City public school system, and remained affiliated with the public schools for 46 years until 1965. From that time forward, GCCC has implemented instruction and training to accommodate the needs of the community, business and industry, and students.

GCCC's original leaders were years ahead as their vision of a community college's purpose and function is alive and well today. Community college students don't only earn associate degrees and transfer to four-year institutions, they also earn or upgrade job skills or pursue hobbies and other personal enrichment experiences. The GCCC Board of Trustees recognized these goals when they set the college's overarching purposes. The ends, or objectives, defined by the college governing board today are:

* Essential skills

* Academic advancement

* Work preparation

* Personal enrichment

* Workforce development

These ends support GCCC's mission and ensure that contemporary, relevant educational options are available to students, regardless of their personal goals.

With community colleges taking the leading role in America's quest to train and educate a workforce in a global economy, recognition for community colleges has reached the highest levels of U.S. government.

"Community colleges represent a uniquely American idea that if you work hard and get a good education, you can get the skills you need for a good job and build a better life for you and your family," said Dr. Jill Biden, Second Lady of the United States, during the Aspen Institute's 2013 "Celebrating Excellence in Community Colleges" award ceremony March 19. "Community colleges are often unsung heroes in their work to expand opportunities, offer intensive preparation for careers, and provide an affordable and effective option for many students.

"Education and job training are critical to that vision, strengthening the middle class and preparing our citizens to compete in the global economy. Each and every day, community colleges are doing more to grow our middle class, equipping our citizens with the education and training that today's jobs require."

As you celebrate your independence this Fourth of July, consider the options available to you at GCCC. From career technical programs to fine arts and history, learning is available to you year-round. The final 2013 summer session begins Monday and there's still time to enroll for that and the fall semester, too. Fall classes are set to begin Aug. 21. We even have scholarships available.

If you would like to join the more than 7 million Americans who have chosen a community college to advance their opportunities in life, register now. Registration is at the GCCC Student and Community Services Center from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. each Monday through Thursday, as well as 8 a.m. to noon on Fridays. You can view GCCC courses at www.gcccks.edu, under "Search for Classes." Numbers to call for information are 276-9608 at the GCCC Admissions Office, or the main line at 276-7611.