A Smart Beginning

03 Sep

August is the season of new beginnings. Our Littles leave the nest, entering elementary or high school. In some cases our Littles leave for “Super Big School” (college), after parents have exhausted years of nurturing their fledglings. Such was the case in our home this August.

For the record, I am not a helicopter parent. Helicopter parents are those who hover above their Littles making sure projects are completed,  even if said projects are completed (or done entirely) by the parent, not the child. You can spot a helicopter parent in science class. They are moms and dads who arrive in school with a ginormous volcano equipped with laser lights and lava that spews to the ceiling.

News flash: no child can complete this type of task at age seven. I think the parents should receive a zero, but I digress.

I live in an area where helicopter parenting is so common we need an air traffic controller. Parents are stressed you see. In Georgia, the HOPE Scholarship dangles a “Free Tuition” carrot for students who complete- and score with high numbers- AP rigor classes. In theory, if you are “smart enough” (or test well without having a nervous breakdown) then college is free.

Free college opens the door to expensive cars when one turns sixteen and European vacations during spring break. Why save for college when it will be free? Except HOPE changes the requirements, often. As my daughter began her high school year HOPE increased the required AP rigor classes to two and the numbers continue to increase depending on graduating year. Since my daughter didn’t have enough rigor classes. She BEGGED me to let her take AP classes to qualify for HOPE, but I refused.

Yes. Refused.

Helicopter parents be warned, if your Little is in the 8th or 9th grade, start thinking about college and AP classes now, or, open your mind to my daughter’s decision when it comes to higher learning.

Having volunteered in the College and Career Ready room at high school, I’d seen the worried look on the faces of mothers. I took mental notes as they discussed their tutoring investment so Little Johnny and Jane could pass said rigor classes. I also noted the number of times their Littles had taken the SAT in order to score high enough to get into the college their Little wanted to attend (which by the way is very often the Alma Mater of one of the parents, and out- of- state, AND ridiculously priced).

I also paid attention to the social-class war and how these parents looked down their noses at students who came in wanting to attend colleges other than UGA, Auburn, or Alabama. I particularly noted how many students take six or seven years to complete their “4-year degree.”

Colleges woo our Littles (and their parents) with emotional decisions, and these decisions are made while overlooking the reality: COLLEGES ARE BUSINESSES! And because our family has REALITY (and Jesus, don’t forget Jesus), instead of the HOPE SCHOLARSHIP, our family now has something called Community College.

Now I’ve done it; I’ve gone and said a bad word . . .  Community College . . . something that is usually spoken in a hushed whisper because – let’s be honest –people judge those who attend Community College. They think the students are lesser, not as intelligent, blue-collar, dead-end-job-folk.

I bet there are many seven-year college graduates who’d be happy to work a dead-end-job right about now. But that is another digression.

I propose that community college students are some of the smartest folk around and if you have a pretty smart kid in high school imagine how s/he would be in a community college. BIG fish: small pond. You see, there is more than one way to receive a 4-year degree, so why not make the best economical decision.  Doesn’t anyone want to graduate debt-free anymore?

According to the numbers I heard during orientation only 38% of Americans have a four-year-degree. That could mean a lot of students start, but never pass. It is widely known that fall classes are called “weed out” classes, a time where serious students are separated from those who are occupying seats but have no desire or real direction. Perhaps students party too much or worship SEC football too much in the fall. Or maybe they have trouble transitioning at large universities or do not graduate because mommy isn’t there to build a volcano. I don’t know, I only know that I have limited resources and therefore must invest them wisely.

By comparison, community college students begin with frugality in mind; they want the best- affordable- education. They want to graduate with as much experience and as little debt as possible. Today’s community colleges aren’t what we once knew. Once called “Trade Schools” and “Technical Colleges,” today’s community college provides a cost effective means of receiving specialized training, but also an affordable alternative for serious students seeking to better their current economic situation through higher learning.

But perhaps it is the classroom setting that provides the best example of why community colleges work. Imagine if you will a room full of students, some are eighteen years old, fresh from high school (they know everything by the way); other students are thirty years old, recently laid off, praying for a chance to start- or finish- their degree. Then there are the “learn-ed” the 40 and 50 year olds who have held a job since high school, can do math in their head, and have so much life experience they should be teaching Real Life- 101. These are life-veterans, parents, grandparents, peers, mentors, and their experience is invaluable in the classroom setting.

See where I’m going?

While standing in line at the bookstore I met a student who is participating in the College Transfer program. For those who aren’t familiar with this particular degree, students knock out core classes first, and then select the University where credits will transfer. Southwestern Community College (which is an accredited school) has an agreement with the University of North Carolina system where students can earn up to 61 hours of credits that will transfer to any public university and many private universities. His goal: MIT.

So let’s do some math.

My daughter invests two years taking core college transfer classes, which are currently priced at $ 75.00 a credit hour. Meanwhile, over at the U of D (University of Debt), students are sardine-packed with 600 of their closest friends taking the same English class, using the same textbook as the University classes which cost – depending on your major and current prices listed on their website–between $334 and $693. Per credit hour. (Out of state $1,000-$1,542 respectively)

I don’t need to elaborate further, do I? So while parents are fretting about putting a second mortgage on their home, and while thousands of students are graduating with the burden of student debt which will prevent them from buying their own home for years to come, I believe my daughter made the correct decision.

There’s plenty of room in her small pond for you.

Visit these links to learn more about Southwestern Community College (ranked number 7 in this latest report).

Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna SandwichesMountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned a SIBA and GAYA nomination.  Visit her website at


Posted by on September 3, 2015 in Uncategorized


3 responses to “A Smart Beginning

  1. Satin Sheet Diva

    September 3, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    I wish there were more parents / high school seniors who understood this concept. Thank you!

  2. Martha

    September 3, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    Love it!

  3. ambernagle

    September 4, 2015 at 1:12 pm

    I don’t think Community College is a bad word. I think that people who choose that route are smart. In the Eighties, I practically killed myself as a freshman and sophomore at a major university. In my junior year, many folks transferred in from community colleges. These folks were more relaxed and had better GPAs. They were prepared. They had more money. We all ended up with the same thing—a degree from Georgia Tech.


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