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In these uncertain times, community colleges remain an attractive educational option | READER COMMENTARY

Author Alice McDermott reads from her latest work, "The Ninth Hour," at a packed gathering in Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center at Howard Community College Friday evening in February. The option of enrolling in community college has only become more attractive as the COVID-19 pandemic has advanced this spring.
Author Alice McDermott reads from her latest work, "The Ninth Hour," at a packed gathering in Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center at Howard Community College Friday evening in February. The option of enrolling in community college has only become more attractive as the COVID-19 pandemic has advanced this spring. (Phil Grout/Baltimore Sun Media G / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

I read the article, “Schools tap waitlists as students wait to decide” (May 4), with special interest as the president of Howard Community College, one of 16 community colleges in Maryland. What grabbed my attention was the quote by a high school senior planning to play ball at a college in Pennsylvania. He stated, “It doesn’t make sense to pay 20 grand to sit at my computer at home and take online courses. You can get the same education from a community college.” What an astute young man!

Maryland’s community colleges serve close to 150,000 Marylanders in credit programs annually, and they all transitioned to offering online learning and services this spring due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many will continue online this summer.

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With so much unknown about what the future will bring, community colleges provide Maryland families with a certainty: a wonderful educational value right in your backyard (or online). For high school seniors, now is the best time to become acquainted with your local community college and begin college from the comfort of your home for a fraction of the cost. Technology, such as laptop computers, is often available, as is financial aid, for those who qualify. Community college transfer advisers will assist students with determining which courses will transfer to the four-year institution where they plan to eventually enroll. Parents will save tens of thousands of dollars, since a full-time student at a community college usually pays five thousand dollars a year or less for tuition and fees.

Even if a student decides to test the waters by taking a couple of courses, it will be time well spent. A gap year, usually the break between high school and the first year of college, was originally intended for travel, service learning or work which are all increasingly challenging right now. Community colleges offer a smart alternative to the gap-year experience.

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In addition to taking classes, many student activities are being offered virtually so students can connect with other students. Honors programs continue virtually, as do tutoring, and personal and career counseling.

Now is the time for parents and their high school seniors to look closely at their local community college. We are ready and waiting to help with the transition.

Kathleen Hetherington, Columbia

The writer is president of Howard Community College.

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