The collective student loan debt in the United States stands at a whopping $1.75 trillion. Many students who might like to earn a college degree are put off by the rising cost of tuition and the resultant dread of mounting student debt. Voting with their feet, they demand a reevaluation of higher education to create a sustainable and affordable pathway to academic success. Those of us who made our careers in the community college world know the answer: start your journey at a community college. CCBC is proud to lead by example with a new transfer initiative called Degrees to Succeed.

CCBC’s Degrees to Succeed (D2S) initiative is a dual admissions program on steroids! “One student; Two institutions; One Experience” is the magic tagline. Enrolling in both a two- and four-year institution simultaneously, a student, nurtured by both colleges, completes an associate degree and, with the right GPA, transfers directly into the four-year college as a junior. No loss of credit; no loss of status! From day 1 to graduation, D2S students are nurtured and supported by both institutions with access to resources at both campuses: co-advising, financial incentives, scholarship opportunities, College Life programming, library access, athletic competitions, etc. At our college, a D2S student might be seen walking on the campus wearing a CCBC ballcap and a Towson or UMB sweatshirt.

Committed to its open-door mission, CCBC serves 50,000 students a year, 85% of whom come from economically challenged communities. Although some students will no doubt qualify for full scholarships at four-year colleges, most of our families cannot afford the cost of a four-year institution without going into significant debt. Partnering with local community colleges is one way to ensure future enrollment growth for both two- and four-year partners, a pact that eight Maryland universities have already made with CCBC.

Enrollment in CCBC’s Degrees to Succeed program drastically reduces the cost of college and the size of student debt while fast tracking academic goals. Now more than ever, community colleges are the most powerful accelerator towards bachelor’s degree completion and career readiness, and we are uniquely equipped to play this role in every state across the country.

Community colleges are a student-first industry. We hold the promise of an accessible and affordable education for the many for whom a pathway to higher education is blocked by fears of debt. With Affirmative Action admissions and plans to discharge federal student loads officially dead, this moment presents a pivot point for the higher education community. We can work together to close this gap to ensure opportunity for those otherwise denied or continue to allow the mile-wide gap between our segments to dictate the hierarchy of who counts and who does not. Through initiatives such as Degree to Succeed, CCBC and many other of America’s community colleges will continue to quietly, yet effectively, fill the gap.