It was 2009 when Josiah Guthland started at Carroll Community College.
He was 24, just out of the Army after six years and a couple of deployments, and in all honesty, he said, begrudgingly attending the school.
"I was really concerned because I'm like 24, I'm a combat veteran, I'm not going to be able to relate to these people,” Guthland said. “I'm like ‘this is going to be stupid.’ ”
But, for Guthland, his two years at Carroll were better than he could have expected.
"I didn't feel like the old guy,” he said, and instead, everyone was extremely nice and helpful.
He became involved in student government, the Phi Theta Kappa honor society and more. And, Guthland said, he found success academically for the first time in his life.
Now almost a decade later, Guthland works for Carroll Community College as an admissions counselor — and is involved in other positions like overseeing the honor society he once belonged to, and helping the college’s veterans.
Guthland’s story isn’t unique — it’s one countless students share — one that involves initial uncertainty, fear and maybe even lack of interest. But for many students who attend Carroll Community College, the tune changes quickly.
After two years, many don’t want to leave.
This year, Carroll Community College is celebrating its 25th year as an independent college, first having begun as a branch of Catonsville Community College. Over the years, the college has literally grown from the ground up, adding buildings, programs and students.
But, President James Ball said, while those things may change and evolve, the focus has remained the same.
“We are an open access institution available to anybody,” Ball said, adding “We are the community's college.”
‘All about the students first’
When Ball became president in July of 2014, he recognized the college would be facing some growing pains.
“We knew that as a college we'd be facing a period — and probably an extended period — of declining enrollment,” Ball said.
The college had seen a boom in enrollment and growth in the college from the time it became independent. Buildings were added and student numbers grew sometimes in the double digits each semester, he said.
But despite the slowing of and eventual decline of student enrollment — something that has been paralleled in Carroll County’s public school system — Ball said the college has continued to expand and update programs nonetheless, while working to find alternative funding sources outside of tuition.
"We want to be a world-class institution,” he said, something Carroll has continued to maintain as it has worked to attain grant money.
The college’s cyber security program is growing by “leaps and bounds” and in recent years, Carroll launched its entertainment technology program, he said. Carroll is getting ready to launch a digital fabrication program next, he added.
There are also non-credit programs that help students with certifications and re-certifications for the world of industry.
"When our students finish these programs, they're going to be well-prepared and ... ahead of the job market,” he said.
Carroll offers something unique to students, in addition to a strong education, said Faye Pappalardo, Carroll Community College’s second president who retired in 2014. The college really gives students the chance to spend those first two years figuring out what they want to do in life without spending a large amount of money at a four-year school.
“We really try to develop that with them,” she said.
Pappalardo said Carroll’s culture is also exceptional, something Ball echoed.
Whenever the college does student surveys, he said, the top-rated service is the caring attitude of faculty and staff.
“It's all about the student first,” Ball said.
A college for every student
For the Collins sisters — Madison, a freshman at the college, and Samantha, a graduate of Carroll — Carroll Community College has been exactly what they needed.
"I loved Carroll. I wish that it was a four-year school,” said Samantha, who earned her degree in education with a focus on special education. It’s a comment Ball said he’s heard from many students before.
Like Guthland, Samantha Collins had her doubts about Carroll at the beginning.
“I did not want to go there,” she said, but after about six months, she became involved and began giving tours, working to encourage others to attend the school.
People tend to write community college off easily, Samantha said, but she is thankful for the experience she had there.
Carroll offers a lot of support, is relaxed and an open-minded place and represented some of the best years of her life, she said, because she met her best friends and incredible professors while attending. Samantha was in the Hill Scholars Program, which is “a selective admission honors cohort program for entering first-year college students that includes honors courses linked by a common theme, seminars and extracurricular opportunities,” according to its website.
"I'm usually pretty shy around people I don't know,” Samantha said, adding that the cohort model of the program allowed her to expand and try things she wouldn’t normally do.
Samantha Collins transferred to a four-year school after Carroll, but didn’t finish, and said the experience between the two schools was like night and day.
"It was not like Carroll and I hated it,” she said.
But, because of her degree in special education, she was able to get a full-time job working at a school with children with autism and learning disabilities.
"I think that [Carroll’s] education program is perfectly aligned with other education programs that are at four-year schools,” she said.
After watching her sister find success at the school, Madison Collins chose to attend Carroll as well, and is also a Hill Scholar.
Going into college was scary, she said, because starting a new chapter of that magnitude is “nerve-wracking,” she said. But Carroll made the transition from high school to college a lot less scary.
“It’s nice coming into college and having 24 people, that are just constantly going to be there to help you,” Madison said, referring to her cohort as a Hill Scholar.
Madison is studying criminal justice. She focused on it while at the Carroll County Career and Technology Center, and after having an internship with the Westminster Police Department, said she wanted to stay close to home.
After Carroll, she said she’s looking at either attending a four-year institution or joining the police academy through the Westminster Police Department.
It’s that ability to go into the workforce, to get certifications or to head to a four-year school, that makes Carroll appealing for so many students.
“It's designed to be a highly flexible and responsive entity,” Ball said, in a way that can help the community achieve its needs.
For Student Government Organization President Jasmine Sarabia, Carroll is the perfect stepping stone to a four-year college and eventually a master’s degree.
She chose Carroll after having been dual-enrolled in high school. Sarabia is studying business administration, and hopes one day to own her own business.
“I felt like this was a good place for me to start,” she said, especially because it’s so affordable.
Her time in Carroll has been spent heavily involved, like in SGO and the honor society, all of which have helped her to grow academically and as a student leader.
The faculty and staff at Carroll are attentive and dedicated, and always willing to help, she said.
"Carroll's just an endless sea of opportunities,” Sarabia added.
Eyes toward the future
With the 25th anniversary comes a slew of celebrations, from a super open house to a time capsule to the unveiling of the college’s new mascot, the Lynx.
Ball said getting the athletics department started and set to be in effect come fall 2019 is something he’s really excited about.
This year is obviously a time to reflect, he said, and look at the college’s achievements.
Moving forward, Ball said, he wants the community engaged in helping to shape Carroll’s future. The community needs to understand Carroll is its college, and is dedicated to serving citizens with everything it has, he said.
Carroll Community College hopes to continue to engage with community and business partners, and in term, remain a good partner to others. The college will continue to be ahead of technology waves, he added, with goals of helping to mold highly competitive workers.
“Our basic vision is that we are ... helping to enhance the quality of life in Carroll County,” Ball said.