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It’s Okay to Change Your Mind

April 29, 2020

A Column by Dr. Tyler Billman, Veterans & International Students Advisor at Southeastern Illinois College

When I imagined Spring 2020, it looked nothing like this.

I had trips planned. My kids had activities scheduled. And I just KNEW this would be the summer that I’d get six pack abs. Ah, February Tyler had quite an imagination.

You probably know what this feels like. We’re all in uncharted waters, and the plans you and I have made over the past several months and years probably make about as much sense as me getting washboard abs during a quarantine. For example, if you’re heading to college (or sending someone), you may have had a pre-pandemic plan. But the world today is very different than the world we knew just a few weeks ago, and it’s important to give yourself permission to change those plans. No guilt. No shame. Just a clear-eyed reassessment of what makes sense presently, given these circumstances. Remember, you can reassess the plan without giving up on the goal.

Perhaps you did not see yourself out of work, but given this unprecedented time you are looking for additional skills to find new employment. Maybe you were heading off to a university, but now you are not sure if that campus will even be open. None of this was your initial plan, but it makes sense given the current predicament to attend a community college in the fall. At the very least, it deserves careful consideration. Full disclosure: I am a community college graduate, and I work at a community college now, so I’m biased. However, I’ve had an opportunity to see how community college can be the best choice for people concerned about money, security, or flexibility. Here’s what I mean:

1. Community college is more affordable than private colleges and universities, even after the fancy sounding scholarships have been issued. This matters because we are living in tough economic times: Nationally, unemployment is at levels unseen since the great depression. Locally, many of our friends and neighbors are unable to work because of Illinois’ Shelter in Place order. It’s okay to save thousands of dollars on college education by starting off at community college. It may not make sense to take out huge loans to send a student away to school. Ask yourself: Does the cost match the benefit given everything that is going on in the world? Are there other options that are more financially responsible?

2. Community college is secure. Sometimes life requires students to stay close to home for family reasons. Other times, they need more time to grow before getting pushed out of the nest (for the record, I was one of those people). In this case, community college may be a good option for people who want to avoid crowded dorms and dining halls. All of this means students can continue to earn college credits from the safety of home while we wait for the pandemic to pass. Additionally, community college credits are real, they transfer to universities and are recognized by employers. Students at a community college are better prepared to handle the workforce, university life, and are set up for success.

3. Community college is often more flexible than bigger institutions. Smaller class sizes and personal interaction with faculty mean that teachers know you by name, and are able to work with you individually. Not surprisingly, research shows that students who attend community college tend to make higher grades when they transfer to four-year institutions than students who went directly to a four-year institution.

Let’s face it, no one knows whether any of us are going back to school in the fall. It may be that the “college experience” is much the same as it was in the spring, which in my house looked like kitchen table homeschool and Zoom calls.

So if you’re feeling stressed or guilty about changing your plans -- don’t. Successful people adapt to their environment. And it may just be that the safest, most affordable option for you or those you love this fall is at your local community college.

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Dr. Tyler Billman has been a student advisor for Southeastern Illinois College for 10 years and will be making the transition to Executive Dean of Academic Services this summer. He has also been a coach for the national award-winning SIC Forensic Falcons speech team for the past 10 years.