Our region’s community colleges offer graduates an accessible pathway forward

This editorial is the opinion of Morgan Hill Life

Photo courtesy Gavilan College

Innovation often arises from adversity, and Gavilan College admirably embraced this truth during the past few unprecedented years. Through visionary leadership and federal assistance, they transformed pandemic hardships into a monumental chance for the South Valley community to uplift itself through education.

Now, as the community college’s Gav 4 Free initiative enters its final chapter, a precious window of opportunity cracks open for residents to transform their lives through higher education. We urge Gilroyans: seize this rare gift while it lasts.

Too often, cost barriers restrict college access only to the affluent and fortunate. Yet talent and academic potential are evenly distributed across economic lines. With uncertainty in the future of the economy, many families face tough trade-offs saving for higher education over immediate needs. Gavilan’s policy eliminates those difficult choices standing between students and scholarly achievement.

By completely removing all tuition and fees through spring semester 2024, Gav 4 Free places a college degree within financially-strapped students’ reach. Yet deadlines dictate this aid cannot continue in perpetuity at Gavilan. So we applaud college leaders’ urgent efforts to inform and help all prospective enrollees through events like the recent Dec. 9 event. With personalized guidance easing new registrations, no motivated student has any excuse left to postpone career investment.

Some may worry they aren’t yet ready. But many supports exist for those needing help sharpening academic skills first. Others may hear old social stigmas whispering that higher education isn’t “for people like them.” Yet with family to feed or bills piling up, now is not the time for hesitation. Opportunity like this may not pass your way again soon. Fortune often favors the bold.

Graduating high school students, don’t discount California’s excellent community college system. Santa Clara County has a number of these institutions besides Gavilan, and the quality of learning in the freshman and sophomore levels can be just as great as that at a large university.

Our region’s community colleges offer graduates an accessible pathway forward that deserves serious consideration — especially given rising tuition costs nationwide.

While four-year colleges can provide immense value, most students change majors by sophomore year as their perspectives evolve.

By starting locally at community colleges, students access the same core general education curriculum in smaller classes at fractional prices — saving tens of thousands while discovering passions. Smaller campuses and class sizes also promote richer mentoring relationships between faculty and pupils.

Transitioning straight into expansive flagship colleges can also prove an abruptly overwhelming cultural leap for many teenagers. Community colleges foster gradual independence development with guardrails nearby from family. Students residing at home enjoy built-in social and mental health supports. An important financial benefit is parents can save substantially on room and board costs if the child stays at home.

Academically-driven students can also directly transfer into advanced university standing through clearly articulated partnerships between many community colleges and regional universities. They often receive guaranteed admission. Talented, motivated scholars earn the same bachelor’s degree from prestigious institutions without paying the steeper initial price tag.

In truth, every student’s needs differ — but uniformly writing off community colleges due to outdated stigmas shortchanges opportunities worth consideration. Many successful people around the globe began careers by first crossing community college doorsteps.

Each family must weigh choices based on individual circumstance without judgments. But by spending your first two years at an excellent local stepping stone like Gavilan College, students lay foundations for success at prices that can’t be beaten.

So Gilroy young people hoping for a better future: heed the call, seize the day, and never look back with regret. Remember Gavilan’s historic free tuition invitation may never come around again. Consider letting a community college education become the vehicle transporting you to new heights of prosperity and purpose. Your future now rests in your capable hands. Make it a bright one!