The Best Decision I Ever Made

October 29, 2013

 

Jessica Bonilla at her BCC graduation ceremony

Jessica Bonilla at her BCC graduation ceremony

For many high school students, enrolling in college right after graduation is a rite of passage, but not for me. Both of my parents were working low-wage jobs to raise my two younger brothers and sister, and there was no money for tuition and college expenses. After graduating high school in West New York, New Jersey, I began working full time as a customer service representative for New Jersey EZpass. Nevertheless, I was determined to earn my college degree.

While working full time, I made the decision to enter Bergen Community College (BCC) in Paramus, New Jersey. Tuition at BCC was more affordable than tuition at a four-year school, but I still often worked two to three jobs to pay for tuition and books. I worked full time during the day and on the weekends while attending night classes at BCC. In two years, I successfully completed my associate degree and graduated from BCC as valedictorian of my class in 2011, becoming the first person in my family to graduate from college.

Ultimately though I wanted to earn my bachelor’s degree and my next step was to transfer to a four-year institution. I was able to transfer to William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey, which has a transfer agreement with BCC. Because of my 4.0 GPA from BCC, I earned an honors scholarship, a presidential scholarship, and a Phi Theta Kappa scholarship to cover my tuition for two years. I also received Pell Grants. This past May, I graduated with distinction from William Paterson University with a Bachelor of Arts in political science.

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A young woman opening a glass door where you can see in her reflection that she is smiling. The words Women in Community College: Access to Success on the door. Also, look for AAUW-sponsored Campus Action Projects (CAP), which will focus on the issues raised in the report. CAP teams will be announced in December.

The path to my bachelor’s degree began at BCC. I was drawn to community college because of the relatively low cost and easy access. But as AAUW’s research report Women in Community Colleges: Access to Success shows, an open-door policy is not enough. Too many students struggle to stay enrolled through graduation and complete a degree. The financial support, academic advising, and guidance on transferring that I received at BCC were critical to my success. But cuts in funding to community colleges mean that these services can be in short supply for the students who need them the most. Making sure that community colleges receive adequate funding to provide students with the classes and support services they need to be successful is critically important.

Although most people may picture the typical undergraduate as an 18-year-old entering a four-year college or university some distance from home, the reality is that 40 percent of all undergraduate students in the United States attend community colleges. Like me, many are women, are first-generation college students, work full time while taking classes, and plan to transfer and earn a bachelor’s degree. Attending a community college was the best decision of my life. Continued support for our community colleges will help others take the same step!

This post was written by AAUW Campus Leadership Programs Intern Jessica Bonilla.

By:   |   October 29, 2013

1 Comment

  1. […] students are enrolled in community colleges than in any other type of institution, and women especially are drawn to these schools — with their flexible schedules and affordable tuition — for higher […]

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