The Garden City Telegram

College offers access, affordability

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GCCC marketing assistant

Most will agree that greater access to a college education is critical to this country's future. Not only to remain competitive with the global workforce, but to ensure educational opportunity and access to America's diminishing middle class. Despite critics who say that a postsecondary education has lost its value, the numbers show differently.

Studies show that compared to someone with a high school diploma, associate's degree graduates, on average, earn close to $10,000 more per year over the course of a working lifetime. Furthermore, those attaining a bachelor-level degree will earn close to $25,000 more per year.

Today's high school graduates face ever-increasing hurdles with regard to access and affordability of a postsecondary education. The traditional four-year collegiate experience is moving far out of reach for many people. This is not only because of the increasing cost of university tuitions, but also is the result of lower wages and high unemployment, coupled with a higher cost of living.

Community colleges must lead the way in providing solutions to this societal challenge. Community colleges have an unmatched competitive edge when it comes to affordability, which is the biggest obstacle prospective students face. Furthermore, community colleges serve 44 percent of all U.S. undergraduates. Community colleges are a launching point for first-time students and a place adult students return to get new skills, providing millions of Americans with an opportunity to join the middle class.

Community colleges have a special responsibility to our communities and to our nation. One way we can fulfill this responsibility, and better serve our students across this region, is to expand access and respond to local needs.

Research from the Department of Education specifically indicates that residential life at community colleges is key to students' academic success. Dorm life has a positive impact on academic outcomes, such as graduation rates, and students who live on campus are more fully integrated into college life, resulting in overall higher levels of academic achievement.

In addition, campus housing allows the delivery of a "true college experience," enhances diversity by allowing the college to serve international students and, in rural areas such as ours, attracts a larger population of full-time students. These students, in turn, benefit local residents by spending money at business establishments and raising tax revenues for the county.

A growing number of traditional-aged college students are choosing to go to community colleges with residential facilities as a bridge between living at home and getting an apartment or transferring to a four-year college. Residential students save on the cost of commuting, enjoy low-cost housing and transferable credits. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, in 2000, 225 community colleges offered on-campus housing. By 2010, that number grew to 260, and in 2012, 391 provided a place to live on campus. In Kansas alone, at least six institutions of higher learning are building new freshmen dorms.

GCCC's original residence hall was built in 1968, and additions were made in 1978. GCCC has increased enrollment for the last two fall semesters, and the residential housing facility has been over capacity each fall since 2009. To solve this need and to grow college enrollment, GCCC's Board of Trustees authorized the administration to pursue a study on the feasibility of improving and/or increasing housing options for GCCC students.

At GCCC, we believe this will be a means of increasing the quality of the educational environment at the college, while providing a greater good to the area and helping to improve the quality of life in our community by offering more access and services to potential students.