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By: Dalton Ulm

There is a common belief among many high school graduates and college-aged students that institutions like Cuyahoga Community College have recently developed a “Tri-High”-like stigma. Although this misconception may be somewhat true, some theories say it is attributed to the rising cost of four-year colleges and universities. It is obvious that Tri-C appeals to a different type of student/demographic looking to save money and receive a faster degree, but why aren’t more people using it to their advantage?

Tri-C boasts the oldest and largest public community college in all of Ohio, serving more than 52,000 students annually. With such a large, diverse student population, Tri-C provides many alternative opportunities to those who cannot afford traditional four-year universities.

In addition to the affordable cost, Tri-C’s diverse student profile speaks for itself; student ages range from 15 to 75-plus, 39 percent are from minority groups, 65 percent study part-time and 56 percent are seeking an associate degree or taking courses that will transfer to a four-year institution.

Tri-C has seen nothing but growth of its student population in the last decade, and there seems to be no signs of it slowing down. Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs at Tri-C East Dwayne Keeney explained that much of the growth is a result of the drastic change in the economy.

“The past eight years have seen an increase in the flow of students from four-year colleges and universities to two-year schools,” Keeney said. “The changes in the economy that began in 2007 accelerated something that previously happened on a scale too small to be noticed. Enrollments at Tri-C reached the highest levels in history. With that increased exposure came an acknowledgement of the quality education schools like Tri-C can provide.”

As many of us are aware, tuition of four-year colleges is at an all-time high, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for the average middle-class family to send their children off to college without taking out large student loans. It seems like an easy decision when comparing the cost of community colleges such as Tri-C to that of an in-state public university, but some believe that quality and community college do not go hand-in-hand.

Tri-C East Student Success Specialist Ryan Hoeing shared her experience of working with students who have struggled to make that decision.

“Students often remark on how community college offers a strong product at an affordable cost,” Hoeing said. “Most students who discuss this topic with me see community college as a fertile learning environment that saves them dollars before they transition into their majors at universities.

In some circumstances, many believe that by choosing to enroll in Tri-C you are agreeing to miss out on the college experience, thus attributing to the reputation labeled “Tri-High.”

“If there is some negative perception, my guess is that it’s largely confined to current and recent high school graduates who watched friends go one way and that the ‘failure to launch’ associated with staying home and commuting to any school is somehow less special,” Keeney said. “There’s a nickname in the community that I abhor that reflects some people’s perception of Tri-C as simply a continuation of their secondary education.”

So, is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Is there hope in changing the way people think about community college and Tri-C specifically? It would seem that many people are unaware of Tri-C’s services, scholarships, classes and opportunities, contributing to the underutilization of its resources. By making these services more visible to the public and local high school students, the stigma of community college might just become the new norm.

Many factors contribute to one’s decision to go to either a four-year university or a two-year community college. In some cases, those cases may not be thought out fully.

Vice President of the Creative Arts Student Alliance Vincent Tyree made the decision to enroll at Tri-C and sees the positive effects of his choice on a daily basis. Tyree observes the same optimism reflected in his fellow classmates and club members.

“Ultimately you have to take advantage of the countless tools at your disposal and build networks to become successful at any school,” Tyree said. “You control your future. My organization is devoted to that way of thinking and it is a driving force in our initiatives.”

Maybe the problem is that we are comparing two things that were never meant to be compared. Community college was not created with the intention of providing dorms, meal plans and football games in order to give the students the pleasure of labeling it with the ultimate “college experience,” rather to provide an alternative, catalyzed education track that saved students loads of money. Tri-C breaks down the barriers of limitations that college often poses, whether it is financial or circumstantial, and gives anyone the opportunity to participate – giving them the power to control their own future.

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