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It’s been a few years since I graduated from college in North Carolina, but I remember the years leading up to college, and I don’t recall ever having a choice about furthering my education. It was always a given that I would be going to a college or university after high school. I toured several campuses my junior and senior years of high school, and only one was out of state. Ultimately, I didn’t really love the out of state school, and the price tag for out of state tuition was really too much for me to handle. It really wasn’t a surprise that I stayed in North Carolina. It may have been somewhat of a surprise that I stayed so close to Asheville, though!
Besides it just being expected of me to attend school (on a single mom’s salary), I knew that in order to make a decent salary, I was going to need a four-year degree. My 18-year-old self was set on becoming a math teacher, but my 20-year-old self decided to change paths and get a degree in Computer Science. Nineteen years after graduating, I still use my degree every single day.
If you are a parent of a high school junior or senior, and you’re concerned about the cost of higher education, I urge you to learn more about Higher Ed Works and the options our kids have when it comes to studying at one of North Carolina’s public colleges or universities.
I also think parents need to consider the option of summer school for their high school graduate. Summer school is a great way to help your student get an earlier start. Summer school can also help a student graduate on time or even earlier than anticipated. Giving students the opportunity to take classes over the summer was tested at UNC-Asheville, and their graduation rates increased overall. The semesters tend to be shorter and more intensive, but students also aren’t taking a full course load during the summer. Student-professor ratio will be better during the summer months, and it’s a great way to get credits out of the way. Taking summer courses also helps keep the overall cost of tuition lower, and who doesn’t love lower costs of a college education? Graduating in three or three-and-a-half years also sounds appealing.
North Carolina has a constitutional mandate that requires the NC General Assembly to provide all NC citizens with an affordable higher education. We are one of three states that have done this. The North Carolina Constitution even reads, “The General Assembly shall provide that the benefits of the University of North Carolina and other public institutions of higher education, as far as practicable, be extended to the people of the State free of expense.”
If you’re still debating whether college is what you need, I have several reasons for attending:
- My salary is higher because I have a degree. Almost all jobs I applied for or have been interested in require a four-year degree, and I started my first job in my field just two weeks after graduating college.
- I was able to go away to college, while still staying close to home. I was less than 20 miles from my house but still had the college experience.
- Location, location, location. In North Carolina, you can be at the beach or in the mountains within a few hours. I chose the mountains, and we have multiple public universities here – UNC-Asheville is closest to me, but Western Carolina University isn’t that far away. I love that we truly experience all four seasons in the mountains of NC, but I can get to a beach in a few hours if I choose to make the drive.
- While I did change majors while in school, it wasn’t difficult for me to make the transition to a different program, and I didn’t end up in a field that would have been the wrong one for me. I was given the time to change my mind, while still learning and earning credits towards my degree.
- Financial Aid was readily available to me and college was affordable. That may not have happened had I chosen to study outside of my home state.
My husband attended a North Carolina university to get his Bachelor’s degree (Appalachian State University in Boone) and received a degree in Education. He immediately found a job as a teacher in a public school after graduating, and about eight years ago he decided to work towards a Master’s degree in reading. After researching the various programs in North Carolina, he settled on East Carolina University in Greenville, NC, and began the program the summer our first child was due to be born.
We were very concerned about the cost (and the time commitment) but knew the payoff would be great. He was actually able to pay out of pocket for his program on a teacher’s salary. He continued to work full-time and would concentrate on his classes on nights and weekends. Two years after he started the Master’s program, our son and I were able to see him graduate. Fast forward a few more years and my husband just finished teaching online courses for the program he went through at ECU!
North Carolina has been lagging behind when it comes to teacher pay, but in the past few years, educators are seeing higher salary increases and there are plans for increasing their salaries going forward so we aren’t at the bottom of all states. I’ve seen firsthand how NC educators are making a difference, and finally being compensated for their hard work.
Asheville is a pretty decent sized city, but we are surrounded by several rural counties. We’re fortunate to have more than one state school (UNC-Asheville and Western Carolina University), as well as the community college (A-B Tech), as options for higher education.
I’ve been working on a college campus for more than five years, and I love seeing all of the new students coming in and celebrating with them when they graduate. I love that my kids are growing up around a college campus, and I have hopes that they will attend a university one day and not have to worry about being accepted or how we’re going to afford it (because a North Carolina school is affordable, especially if you are a North Carolina resident).
Higher Ed Works is helping with these concerns. They have the information we all need when it comes to deciding on going back to school or continuing school after high school, and they are a resource for us to advocate for our kids. Through their website, you can find so much information about the UNC system and community colleges. It’s important that the state continue to fund the public institutions so our kids can continue to afford and have access to attend college.
Connect with Higher Education Works on Twitter to stay informed.