College of the Redwoods

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Humboldt State University

College Matters | Attending a community college makes sense

This article was originally posted in the College Matters column of the Times-Standard.

Thursday, April 27, 2023 - 2:00pm

In my role at Cal Poly Humboldt, I not only influence, but observe the transformative power of higher education every day. I see students from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences pursuing their dreams and achieving their goals.

I also see the barriers that many students face in accessing and completing their education, and often these barriers are financial or related to academic preparation. That is why I have always been a big supporter of community colleges, which serve as great options for many students. Community colleges are incredibly affordable, making them truly accessible to nearly everyone. At the same time, they allow students a wide range of options like specialized certificates, two-year degrees that qualify them for many careers, and transfer to a four-year institution.

Two key facts make me a big fan of community colleges: 1) Transfer students from the College of the Redwoods to Cal Poly Humboldt are the group most likely to successfully complete their programs and graduate, and 2) community college was my personal path to higher education, and my experience set me on a path to four-year and graduate degrees.

As we track retention and graduation rates, College of the Redwoods transfer students are definite standouts. They’re obviously well-prepared. As we recruit new students, our goal is always to attract every possible CR transfer — we even staff an office on their campus so potential transfer students can get information and answers to questions.

As stated in the past, it does not matter where you start your degree, just that you finish the degree — someplace. It has also been asked: “What does a CR transfer student to Cal Poly Humboldt have that others do not?” Answer: A college degree that is already in their hands.

Many years ago there was this young high school graduate. Prior to completing high school, this student knew they were not going to attend a four-year college. There wasn’t anyone in their family that had done that before and this student didn’t do any of the admissions tests that were required at the time (today many of those tests are no longer required). They knew they would likely join the military, as their father (and his father before him) had done, and then find good work thereafter.

This student did just that; joined the U.S. Coast Guard Reserves, found a skill they enjoyed, served their country, and then discovered learning. The military, and how it approached training, actually renewed, if not inspired learning in this student.

It wasn’t that much longer before this student found their way to a community college, in large part to continue running track and field, but to also pursue a two-year degree. Forty years later, that student writes this article every other week. Yes, I am a big fan of community colleges and a huge fan of the College of the Redwoods.

Nationally and in California, community colleges have long been a pillar for local economies while providing opportunities for millions of students. Today, as in the case of CR, there is great optimism, a strong community connection, a stronger partnership with Cal Poly Humboldlt, and a collaborative spirit in bringing forward educational opportunities for the area.

Locally, we strive to be the best partners possible with our colleagues at College of the Redwoods, and they do the same. It’s fair to say that our relationship has never been stronger, and I credit much of that to the strong leadership of CR President Keith Flamer as well as a real willingness by individuals at both institutions to collaborate and to try new approaches. Examples include expanding nursing education, new degree pathways, additional advising and other support for CR transfer students, supporting CR students with services such as pharmacy and access to Humboldt’s library, shared training, and more. Small groups from CR and Humboldt meet often to work on specific projects. We also have regular summits, like the one today at CR, where larger groups brainstorm and keep up the momentum.

At Cal Poly Humboldt, we welcome community college transfer students — from CR and from many others across California. Students with a two-year degree directly transfer to Humboldt. We are also working on renewed partnerships with Lassen College, Shasta College, and the College of the Siskiyous. These campuses embrace the collaborative spirit and value the diversity, resilience, and potential of students.

As an educator, I fully acknowledge that 1) we must work together as educational institutions on behalf of our students and our communities, 2) the more educational opportunities we can provide locally, the greater success of that region, and 3) students need to go where they need to go. If Cal Poly Humboldt can be there for them when they are ready, that is all the better.

Students on the North Coast are fortunate to have the choice of College of the Redwoods, which has long had a very strong reputation. Many have taken advantage of this, and just in our local area there are more than 2,500 individuals who are alumni of both College of the Redwoods and Cal Poly Humboldt. Be well.

Dr. Tom Jackson Jr. is the president of Cal Poly Humboldt and a proud alumnus of Highline College located in Midway, Washington.