A little known fact, for some, is that there is a meeting the first Friday of each month to discuss business and economy of the city. The May 4 First Friday Forum featured Neosho County Community College.

Claudia Christiansen was the speaker. She did a great job showing how the college has developed over the past 75 years. In the process, she presented some details about the mission and accomplishments of Neosho and the “junior college” in general. I want to expand on what she presented from the viewpoint of a Neosho instructor.

About four years ago, I began at Neosho as a tutor after answering the college’s ad that ran in The Herald. My first student was a local lady, middle-aged, finding a way to support herself after raising her children. My next student was a 51-year-old gentleman, an experienced CRC operator, who had 35 years at a machine shop that was sold to an off-shore company, eliminating his job. He was looking to retrain in the nursing field to be gainfully employed.  

I then moved into the classroom. A survey of the backgrounds of my students over the past four semesters reveals an interesting mix. Consistently, one-third are fresh out of high school, a third have been employed for 10 to 20 years and find themselves unable to earn a decent living, and at least a third (or a little more) are older looking to be retrained because their jobs have been outsourced or the economic cutbacks have dealt them the unemployment card.

The community college system is ideal for all three of these segments of students. The students fresh out of high school all too often are marginally prepared for college. Our secondary school system clearly is failing in this regard. That is a major reason 50 percent of the freshmen in college drop out, or leave because of failed classes. Community colleges, Neosho in particular, are structured with small classes and individual attention to bring such a student up to speed for advanced education.

Such a student has “been in the trenches,” typically became employed without any post-secondary education and is earning just enough to get along. He or she wants more. These are students who have not seen a classroom for several years having, in many cases, done poorly in the previous one they attended. Again, a community college is structured to help such students learn how to study, teach them learning is fun and move the students upward and onward through the system.

The third segment of this mix is like the second in every way. In addition, they have had the proverbial rug pulled from under them. Without exception, they felt that they were secure in their chosen profession having worked in their specialty for two or three decades — much like Brian, the man whom I tutored. They have reached the peak of their professional lives and are considered by many to be a little too old to be job hunting. The wise ones, like Brian, have chosen to retrain. After decades on the “outside,” they find themselves learning to read didactic materials, attend lectures and take exams.

The community college system is structured so these students, those with a bad experience and those with a distant past experience, are accommodated. The classes are small, the instructors are unique, and the system works. Without community colleges, these individuals and their talents never would be recognized.

You see, a huge gap exists between the experience and preparation of an average graduate of a high school and the level of preparation expected at a four-year college. Community colleges are spectacular at closing that gap.

Ottawa is blessed with both a four-year university and a quality community college. We hear a lot about the university. We acknowledge the university. It is high time we hear more about the Neosho County Community College. It has invested heavily in our community with an $8.2 million campus on Logan Street (with plans to expand). It is time we invested in it.

More importantly — and this is the main thing I want to drive home in this letter — let’s recognize the integrity of the community college system. Our efforts are well-spent if we are responsible for even one student obtaining a post-secondary education. The system is intact. The student will succeed.

 — Richard Warren, Ottawa