When I think of spring, I think of new beginnings: a new season (more sunshine coupled with a healthy dose of gentle rain — it’s Oregon, after all), flowers sprouting and buds blossoming on SUBMITTED PHOTO - Jeremy Brown

Springtime also serves as a crucial marker for high school seniors across the nation. Right about now is when many of them are finalizing their decisions about where to attend college next fall.

For those of us who have been through this process, we are all too aware of the importance of this decision: the benefits of making the right choice and the ramifications of the wrong one. This is a life-changing moment and thus, a decision that demands careful consideration.

In this generation, a great number of students study at more than one institution on the path to their four-year degree. Community colleges are becoming colleges of choice for our students: Roughly 45 percent of all undergraduates in the United States attend community colleges.

Students and their families are seeing the value of attending a community college close to home for two years before transferring to a four-year institution to complete an undergraduate degree. They recognize community colleges are an invaluable asset, especially during challenging economic times such as we’ve seen recently.

Further, community colleges offer a multitude of academic options for students: Lower-division transfer studies for those who want to continue on to universities range from history to photography, art, English, literature, writing, a variety of world languages, geography, music, chemistry, physics, mathematics — the list goes on and on.

Community colleges also offer technical education degrees and certificates for careers such as machine manufacturing, nursing, gerontology, electronic engineering technology, automotive technology, veterinary technology and welding, among others.

Studying at community colleges is affordable — but not at the expense of quality. Community colleges such as Portland Community College offer nationally recognized faculty, curricula, industry partnerships and student development opportunities. The support provided to students by dedicated staff and faculty offer students an excellent learning environment. Coupled with small class sizes, students are afforded greater opportunities for individualized attention and a caring, nurturing experience.

For students desiring four-year degrees, community colleges have streamlined the university transfer pathway. For example, with dual-enrollment agreements in place at several four-year institutions throughout Oregon, students can complete their freshman and sophomore courses at PCC, then easily transfer their credits to universities to complete their junior and senior courses. Further, these agreements enable students to use classes, services and expertise at each partner school, which greatly expands resources and options for students.

The transfer path seems to be an increasingly popular route to take. In the 2011-12 academic year, more than 4,200 PCC students transferred to Portland State University, nearly 800 went on to Oregon State University, and more than 400 headed to the University of Oregon. PCC graduates can transfer to — and find themselves competitive in — a large number of other institutions, public and private alike, around the country.

Collectively, this illustrates how community colleges offer excellent choices for students and a clear path to higher education. We demonstrate a valuable proposition in higher education; community colleges are a sound investment that arm students with education, skills and confidence that can lead to great futures.

In my nearly 10 months on the job as PCC’s president, I’ve had the good fortune to meet PCC graduates at a variety of events and functions. Doctors, nurses, dentists, artists, state legislators, successful business owners ... the breadth of professions they represent and the personal heights of prosperity they have reached is truly inspiring. Each of them credits the role PCC has played in their lives.

That’s the beauty of community colleges. We’re in a position to be “game changers” — to open doors to opportunity, to underscore the importance of education and to contribute to the making of future leaders. And having a men’s basketball team that brought home this year’s conference championship doesn’t hurt either. Community colleges have traditional school spirit too!

So, as you — or your son or daughter, grandson or granddaughter — ponder college choices, include the idea of attending your local community college as a viable part of that mix. Think quality. Think affordability. Think value. Think investment.

Think community colleges.

Jeremy Brown is president of Portland Community College.

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