I wholeheartedly agree with the Sept. 25 Journal editorial, “College must be affordable.” At Forsyth Technical Community College, we believe all North Carolinians should have access to affordable, high quality, public, postsecondary education. Higher education should not equal large amounts of debt; rather it should be a catalyst for advancing social mobility.

North Carolina should absolutely do as much as possible to control costs for our state colleges and universities as well as provide greater oversight of online and for-profit colleges doing business in our state. Students who want to attend a four-year university should have the opportunity to graduate without student loan payments that are more than the monthly income of their first job.

Too often, there is a stigma associated with attending a community college that discounts them as a quality higher ed option. Community colleges are in the business of hope and opportunity and, for me, this business is personal. I was a first-generation, low-income community college student myself, attending college while raising a family and working full time. I believe that knowledge is power, and I believe that education changes lives because education changed my life.

Community colleges should be recognized as an equal and smart postsecondary option. They are the best choice for students wanting to explore career options and build pathways to sustainable careers with livable wages. Community colleges are also an outstanding option for students who want to earn their first two years of college credits without incurring huge amounts of debt.

Our vision at Forsyth Tech is to be a catalyst for equitable economic mobility, empowering lives and transforming communities. We believe our state’s 58 community colleges, serving North Carolina’s 100 counties, are a great value and the best investment we can make in our future. Community colleges expand accessibility to higher education, drive workforce and economic development, and create opportunities for everyone to advance socially and economically. For nearly 60 years, Forsyth Tech has been fortunate to serve Forsyth and Stokes counties and the Piedmont Triad region, providing excellent opportunities for lifelong learning and workforce development. We believe we are not only the right choice, but also the first choice for many.

At Forsyth Tech, we offer five associate degrees that allow students to earn their first two years of credit for less money, and then transfer to a university to complete the final two years of their bachelor’s degree. Our dual enrollment program for high school juniors and seniors allows our students to earn actual college credit, tuition free, saving themselves both time and money. We provide a wide range of associate in applied science degrees, diplomas and certificates to prepare students for careers in skilled occupations. And we provide several short-term workforce certifications to help students hone their skills or change careers. Through our Small Business Center, we offer many entrepreneurship services and our corporate training programs are tailored to meet the specific education needs of local industries. We also provide adult basic education and literacy programs, as well as a variety of personal enrichment courses.

Additionally, we have built strong, invaluable partnerships with other higher education institutions in Forsyth County and throughout the Triad region and the state. Winston-Salem State University, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and North Carolina Agriculture and Technical University not only accept Forsyth Tech credits, but allow students to be dually-admitted at Forsyth Tech and these universities, enabling them to take advantage of resources and activities offered at both colleges.

Our classes are smaller, so students learn in an environment that provides more one-on-one attention from faculty. We intentionally build trusting and supportive relationships with our students. Many are adult students, low-income students or students who are the first in their family to attend college, so they may be inherently at risk of not graduating. When a “life happens” moment threatens to derail their progress, we provide support services to help them maneuver these obstacles and stay in school.

Forsyth Technical Community College is an excellent, high-quality, affordable, higher education option and a vital partner for economic and workforce development. Let’s work together to end the stigma of community college and help more citizens create a pathway to their dreams.

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Janet N. Spriggs was inaugurated as the seventh president of Forsyth Technical Community College on Sept. 19.

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