By Pete Zamplas- Community colleges such as Blue Ridge Community College and Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College offer students a more affordable way to train for a career, or at least as a head start on their longer-term college studies.
Those pursuing four-year degrees can start out at a community college to save money on tuition, housing and meals by instead commuting from home. Further, it is more doable to find work in one’s hometown, to work through college.
The savings in turn avoids huge college debt that can take years to pay off — especially with entry-level earnings. A National Association of Realtors study shows that 83 percent of students aged 22-35 say student loan debit is why they have not yet bought a home. And the default rate is nearly 11 percent, on three-year student loans.
“Financially, it’s been a blessing” to go to BRCC, Hunter Street said of his first year there. “After receiving state aid and then a scholarship, I came out in the black for both semesters.” He plans to transfer to UNC-CH as early as this fall. The 2018 North Henderson High School grad was senior class president, and varsity baseball captain.
Street said he was accepted into Clemson and Western Carolina U. “Clemson was $52,000 a year, and I couldn’t do that just to attend Clemson. I didn’t want to go to WCU, as it was common place and I want to branch out.” He said his associate of arts degree studies at BRCC COA for a “full course load for a semester is approximately $1250, so for a year it’s $2500 with tuition and fees. Throw in about $250-500 a semester for books, and you’re looking at about $3000 to $3500 a year to attend BRCC.”
The school aims at “providing real-life, affordable, and accessible education.”
Many fields require two-year degrees that community colleges provide, making those schools a start and an end rather than a springboard to a university.
Hendersonville police officer Cameron Singleton credits his BRCC law enforcement training with preparing him well for various police skills and tasks and community policing. The 2013 West Henderson grad has been with the force for three years. Singleton recently got his department’s 2019 Lifesaving Award. On Feb. 24 he kept a heart attack victim alive on a street by applying chest compression CPR, so emergency technicians could further save him.
Blue Ridge has “one of the best law enforcement training programs in the state,” Singleton said. He said his police colleagues gave more mixed reviews of their classes taken elsewhere. He said BRCC seems stronger in such areas as handling firearms, and safely yet effectively driving a patrol car in a chase. “They put the right amount of time, into the most important areas. They don’t cut corners,” Singleton said. “It’s not a walk in the park. They make sure we are ready to become the best we can, in our field training where we’re employed.”
At “AB-Tech” people once on the other side of the law get a second chance, in the Small Business Center’s new four-week Inmates to Entrepreneurs Program. The night class helps people with criminal records start and expand low-capital service businesses. The Brian Hamilton Foundation is a sponsoring partner. The course concludes May 15.
NASA was the landing spot last week for three AB-Tech students — Jacob Adams, Christian Donaldson and Enrique Gonzalez-Sanchez. They were among 403 community college students from across the country in the four-day NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) Onsite Experience, at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The students got i3 S-STEM Scholarships, as academically-talented aspirants of careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Student teams simulated a tech firm, at NASA. Their mission was developing and testing a prototype Mars surface rover — within budget, and with teamwork. NASA experts briefed students. Five weeks of online preparation preceded the challenge last week.
Another simulation involved 70 students in BRCC healthcare programs and Wingate physician assistant and pharmacy doctorate students from it Hendersonville campus. Their three-hour simulation was earlier this month, in the Health Sciences Center at 805 Sixth Ave. W. in Hendersonville. Scenarios included surgery, emergency transport, and trauma and hospital care. BRCC theater students acted as patients.
Studying while living at home (far from Mars) enables one to stay active in her or his community. Hunter Street is coaching in his favorite sport, baseball, as an assistant for Apple Valley Middle’s new team along with his father John Street. Their home field is ironically BRCC’s field. The regular season concludes this Thursday; middle school playoffs are April 29-May 6.
In one sense, Street envies some of his North Henderson friends’ social outlets in living in college dorms. But he figures going to community college first is “my God-given path. So I’m taking it day by day, to make the best of it.” Staying in baseball helps. As a bonus, he scouts Apple Valley talent that will move up to North Henderson for its head coach Justin King.
Street is enjoying classes (that end May 8) in Appalachian culture, U.S. history, art appreciation, and research and writing. He took a statistics class last fall, and developmental psychology this spring. He is applying concepts from both, in using complex analytics to AVMS baseball players’ development. He adapts a “readiness report” developed by Brett Pexa, to track players’ key physical and mental conditions in practice and pre-game. This includes muscle soreness, fatigue, stress level, mood, and overall readiness.
Creative outlets are important for students and their instructors. Aaron Bernard, who teaches art at BRCC, said while art might turn out to be a career path for some that it can be fun and possibly a lifelong hobby for those mainly learning a technical trade. BRCC has courses in visual art, film and video production tech, also in theater for an associate degree in fine arts.
Kevin Ayesh, BRCC’s longtime lead music instructor, said he feels grateful to get to impact many young people’s interest in music, to have his own creative outlet as a performer, and to “make a living doing what I love doing.” That is playing piano, and teaching it. Ayesh is one of BRCC’s most recognizable instructors as a public performer, in well-attended public recitals and in BRCC’s concert series.
Sorting out a major is less expensive at a community college. There are many fields of study to try. A-B Tech lists 45 academic programs. The school offers an associate degree or certification in areas such as these: craft brewing, baking and pastry arts, culinary arts, aviation; surgical, veterinary, pharmacy or medical lab technology; dental hygiene, welding; air conditioning, heating and refrigeration; business administration, accounting; mechanical, civil, electronics or computer engineering; computer-aided drafting, software and web development, digital media, database management, building construction, office management, manicuring, early childhood education, fire protection, and emergency medical science.
BRCC and A-B Tech train people in such popular technical areas as nursing, cosmetology, automotive systems and criminal justice. BRCC’s 59 listed programs are similar to A-B Tech offerings. Variations include a Craft Beer Academy, mechatronics engineering, simulation and game (software) development, collision repair and refinishing. Horticulture is one of BRCC’s more unique studies.
A new BRCC manufacturing paid apprenticeship program for graduating high school seniors begins May 15, with a preparatory course. Made in Henderson County is the program’s name. Students get to earn money and experience. BRCC’s lure is “students will earn a competitive salary…and are guaranteed a job offer upon completion of the program.” The students are already chosen. They study mechatronics engineering tuition-free for three semesters, and get a certificate. Each week one day is in class at BRCC, and the rest of the week is working at one of these four plants: Elkamet, Meritor, GF Linamar or WestRock.
Interns of A-B Tech are flourishing. Culinary student Henry Sink interned with Stable Café. He and cafe Executive Chef Chris Moore’s chicken and Andouille gumbo meal won first place in Asheville Mardi Gras’ Cajun Cook Off, in late February.
Some BRCC students even travel together, in a program of studying abroad. Last week, a dozen students wrapped up exploration of Cuba. Blue Ridge’s main campus in East Flat Rock is site for programs for high school students. Its satellite campus is in Transylvania County.
Blue Ridge’s official mission is that it “empowers individuals with knowledge and skills, to enrich our communities and build a competitive workforce.” A-B Tech’s mission is: “Dedicated to student success, A-B Tech delivers quality education to enhance academic, workforce, and personal development” with innovation and civic service among is values.
Both community colleges had spring break last week, as the semester winds down. A-B Tech’s registration for summer classes are ongoing, opening this week for all students. Payment deadline is May 21. Commencement for grads is May 11. Meantime, there is a computer tech student expo May 3, and spring picnic May 8.
BRCC’s spring classes conclude May 8, with graduation May 11. Early registration for summer classes is through May 9, with final registration May 14. Summer classes are May 15-July 25.
For more info on each community college, check blueridge.edu and abtech.educ.