While Idaho ranks among the top states for high school graduation rates, college attendance rates are among the worst, at about 50 percent, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. I believe we can do better.
I can still remember my first day of class as a student at a local vocational school where I had enrolled to study medical assisting. The memories of high school came flooding back — I wasn’t the best student. But all it took to set me on my way was one professor who took interest in my academic potential. No matter what excuse I gave her, she wouldn’t give up on me, and eventually I realized that I couldn’t give up on myself, either. I completed my training and graduated valedictorian of my class.
By the age of 21, I was a single mother to three children. I always tried to take a course to keep the thought of college alive, but I was in “survival mode.” After 15 years of this cycle, my grandfather fell ill and I became his caretaker. I was reminded how much I enjoyed the medical field. I saw an ad in the paper for a medical assistant instructor. I applied for the job and got it with the agreement that I would complete my degree.
My first class of students was challenging, but it was the memory of that professor who saw the potential in me that got me through. I decided that was how I was going to teach. No matter what, I was not going to give up on these students, and that’s when I started seeing success.
Today my job is to believe in others and empower them to be their best selves. Having been a nontraditional student myself, I understand the many challenges that exist with going back to school or even completing a degree. I also know how much education can help change your life.
I encourage anyone who has ever considered going back to school to think seriously about what it could mean for their future.
So how do you get started?
▪ Determine your career path. What field excites you? Once you have some ideas, take advantage of the Internet to research and learn more. Shadowing a professional in that field is also an effective way to determine whether a career is right for you.
▪ Research your options. Find out what schools in your area offer programs in your field of interest. Compare the price of each option with what you will receive from the school. For example, does the program offer externship options for hands-on learning? Does the school give you the option to take courses online?
▪ Get on campus. Carve out some time to visit a few campuses and talk with staff and students about their experiences. Most schools will walk you through financial planning and the options available. I recommend that everyone apply for federal financial aid to see what assistance is available.
▪ Prepare yourself. When you set off for college, it’s important to take a personal inventory of what you need to be successful. Find out what resources are available at the school, such as academic advising, career planning and student support, and do not hesitate to use them. For example, at Carrington College, we provide resources to help students manage aspects of their life in and outside of the classroom to help them succeed.
Debbie Jones is the dean of academic affairs at Carrington College Boise campus.