Community college students to the MN House: We're busting our butts, we're thankful, but we need your help

I had to leave the House higher-ed committee hearing early yesterday, so I missed the testimony of community college students.

But here are some snippets from their prepared remarks, which I obtained after the session.

Don't dismiss them. These students aren't exactly slackers with a sense of entitlement.

1) South Central College student Maureen Wanous. Has a 9-year-old daughter. Went back to school after seven years away and a life of minimum-wage jobs. Now studies in the phlebotomy/medical lab technician program there.

I have fully enjoyed my time at South Central College, but it’s been hard because I’ve had to work so much to pay tuition and support my daughter. I work in the library as an assistant to the Librarian around 15 hours a week. I also work three shifts a week at Pizza Ranch in Owatonna, and four shifts a week at Old Town Bagels. I need to work this much because I am trying to get through school without having to take on more debt than I will be able to pay back. I still have to take out loans to balance it all. But there is a big down side to working this much – my daughter doesn’t get to see me as often, and that’s really hard.  ...

I’m thankful that my grandparents are letting me and my daughter stay with them while I go to school so I can save money. But there are a lot of people out there that don’t have this luxury.  They struggle to make ends meet while balancing school and work, and some of these people drop out and work at jobs that don’t go anywhere or improve their situations.

One of the great things about the MnSCU system is that it’s open to everyone who wants an education. But, we need your help to make sure that college is affordable and available to every Minnesotan who wants to improve their life.

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2) Century College student Deb Nelson. Dropped out of college years ago to attend to an increasingly demanding job at a petroleum equipment company:

Prior to December 2007, I was “Assistant to the Director” in a corporation. When the director unexpectedly passed away, his heirs closed the company.  Suddenly I was back in the job market, only to discover that without a degree I could not get an interview.

I decided to return to school through a dislocated workers program after 30 years away to earn a degree so that I could once again find a fulfilling full-time position.  ... I’ve decided on an Education Major. ...

A problem that a lot of non-traditional students, like me, have to face are placing into remedial classes that do not earn credit, making college more expensive.  ...

If tuition continues to rise, I worry whether I’ll be able to complete my degree. I’ve had to take out a loan, and at my age taking on debt makes me nervous. I work multiple part time jobs – I direct a youth choir at one church and I lead child programs at another church.  I also do some on-call office work.

... I’m hoping that earning a two year degree will allow me to find a better paying part time job, hopefully one or two, while I continue to earn my four year degree. I know that without a degree, I’ll still be in the situation I was when I first re-entered the job market – “overqualified and under degreed.”

3) Samantha Potter-Rank, 17, a Hastings High School senior who attends Inver Hills Community College under the Post-Secondary Enrollment Options program:

I chose to do PSEO because if I worked hard enough, I could graduate college with my associate in arts degree before I graduated from high school. I could also earn my associate degree without paying any tuition. This saved my family a lot of money. I live with my mom and my sister and our total income is less than $25,000. This got me thinking that if I could kick out two years of college while still in high school, that would save me thousands of tuition dollars. More specifically, after graduation, I will have saved nearly ten thousand dollars. And that is before buying books! The PSEO program helped get two years of college out of the way without any debt. This was the ultimate selling point for me.

.... I am hoping to get into a four-year university with a pre-medical program. If I have my way, I will be a pediatric oncologist and I will research cancer. ... . I can’t achieve this without further education though, and without state support for affordable, accessible, and quality education. ... If we keep raising tuition, people are not going to be able to afford it and contribute to the economy after graduation in a significant way. And they won’t be able to finish what they start.