"My community college was the first one to open doors that are so often closed to returning citizens."
James Harvey Elliot, Delaware Technical Community College - Delaware
After my incarceration, I was not expected to aspire to excellence in any aspect of my life: I was expected to make peace with mediocracy. Defiantly, I made the wise financial decision to enroll at my local community college because it offered the diverse learning environment I needed to thrive and pursue my intellectual interest.
That decision helped me achieve academic excellence—despite the revolving door of prison in America—and I was elected to serve in the country’s highest level of leadership for community college students. Because of community college, I found my activist voice and purpose in civic engagement and passed mediocracy years ago. My community college was the first one to open doors that are so often closed to returning citizens, and provided me with the skills I needed to become the person I am today.
Now, as a 2022 Truman Scholar at Columbia University and an intern at Vera Institute of Justice in Washington D.C., I have positioned myself at the center of dismantling mass incarceration through my work, facilitating a significant expansion of high-quality post-secondary education in America’s prison system.
"Attending a community college made my learning experiences more personable, which helped me fall in love with what I do."
Kelsey Maneau, Nunez Community College - Louisiana
I ended up at Nunez Community College by taking a risk. I enrolled in their Aerospace Manufacturing Technology Program and showed up as my best self every day. They helped me build the foundation for my career and taught me everything I needed to land an internship at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility.
Three months into my internship, I accepted a full-time position as an aerospace tech with Boeing in their Defense, Space and Security division. As the first woman to work in this team, I get to be a part of history and help build the most powerful rocket ever built, The Space Launch System!
I didn’t have to attend a big university or four-year college to become successful. For me, it was all about applying myself and taking advantage of the resources available to me at Nunez. Attending a community college made my learning experiences more personable, which helped me fall in love with what I do. Attending a community college is just as great an opportunity as a university. Don’t be skeptical, take a risk.
"Community college helped me rewrite my trajectory, create new academic opportunities, and leverage my academic success to fund further education."
Rob Keel, Motlow State Community College - Tennessee
I returned to school in 2013 after previously failing out of college during the aftermath of a natural disaster in Florida. During school, I was able to find part-time work for $10/hr. I was also having to pay out-of-pocket for all classes, medical insurance, and could not afford housing.
My academic work at the community college created an opportunity for an honors scholarship that helped me fund my classes. My employment at the community college offered a tuition assistance program (1 class per semester) that helped me afford school while still being able to afford things like medication. In 2015, I graduated Motlow State Community College with two degrees and earned the Hites Scholarship from Phi Theta Kappa ($5,000), which helped me afford my bachelor’s program and save money for my master’s program.
Community college helped me rewrite my trajectory, create new academic opportunities, leverage my academic success to fund further education, and now work as a full-time administrator at a community college.
I have gone from working an average of 27 hrs/week in a temporary role without benefits to a full-time administration position with full benefits (including tuition assistance) and making $53,571 as my annual base salary, all while being less than a year from being vested in retirement. I also supplement this income through adjunct teaching opportunities and grant work developing curriculum.
I'm able to afford my own place in my 40s for the first time in my life while maintaining my medical fees related to my disabilities. Also, I am in the final stages of earning my doctorate in Higher Education Administration with a 4.0 and while serving my town as a Commissioner for the Housing Authority, which is a long way from my history of homelessness before returning to work and school.
"The sense of community I got from my classmates in study groups and the small class sizes felt like everyone was there to help me and we were working together to achieve our goals."
Kelly Givens, John Tyler Community College - Virginia
My decision to pursue a degree through community college was not an easy one. I have not been in school in over 20 years since I had left high school. After raising two children and providing daycare in my home for the past 19 years I decided that it was time for me to do something for myself and find a career I could enjoy and devote my time to.
I had been a dental assistant before I had children and taking X-rays was a part of the job I enjoyed. I decided to get my associate degree in Health Science and apply to local radiology programs to work as a radiology technologist. My job as a mom and working full-time providing daycare in my home did not afford me the luxury of time or much extra income to spare. I knew that my best option was to enroll at John Tyler Community College. I obtained the financial aid I needed and started classes in January of 2020.
I started in person, and it wasn’t long before we had to switch to remote classes due to the pandemic. My school and professors handled the transition seamlessly and I got through my first semester with all A’s and a new confidence that I could do this. I then enrolled for each virtual semester with guidance from my advisor and the support of all the staff at my college. I never felt like I was alone trying to navigate this new endeavor I set out on. The sense of community I got from my classmates in study groups and the small class sizes felt like everyone was there to help me and we were working together to achieve our goals.
I would tell anyone asking me for school advice to start with their local community college. It is such a valuable community resource. If you need a technical certificate or just a few classes, or you want to start a longer college career, I think this is the place to start. They made the process less overwhelming, and you felt a part of a local community. I am a little sad to move on from John Tyler and the people I have met, but I know they have prepared me well for anything I may face moving forward.