“It was quite a shock to the system.”

This is how 42-year old Sgt. Brent Barrie described his experience returning to the classroom as a student. No doubt Sgt. Barrie’s work for the Bourbonnais police force requires a high level of resilience and fortitude, so it may come as a surprise to many readers of John Dykstra’s excellent article in the July 23 issue of the Daily Journal that something as seemingly benign as a 10-week professional development class could intimidate the most stalwart of our citizens.

It’s no surprise to those of us who work in community colleges. In fact, Barrie’s story resounds far too familiar. Dykstra’s article accounts for the many changes which have occurred in how learning happens in today’s classrooms, classrooms which look and feel vastly different from the mid-1990s. For Barrie, the “biggest challenge” was “the technology aspect.” Equally challenging must have been balancing his schoolwork with his career. With his family as a strong support network, Barrie received the back-up he needed to finish the course successfully.

Like Barrie, so many working adults know that continuing education is a pathway to enhanced quality of life, to better career opportunities, and to greater levels of satisfaction. The average age of students at Kankakee Community College is 26, and the college makes great efforts to welcome students of any age into the classroom. For some of these students, it is their first foray into higher education, and for others it is a return to the classroom to add skills or to enhance qualifications. Regardless of their intent, returning students like Barrie face intimidating challenges. Sgt. Barrie persisted, but others do not.

Admittedly, colleges like KCC struggle to give our students all the support they need. For example, students like Barrie often come to college as part-time students. In order to be successful, a full-time college student is expected to spend over 40 hours each week studying. This leaves little time to hold a regular job or raise a family. It is for this reason that over 60 percent of KCC’s students attend on a part-time basis, and we know that they are balancing responsibilities and managing complex lives. An added challenge for these students is the lack of scholarships for part-time students, students who don’t qualify for many of the $200,000 in scholarships made available by KCC’s Foundation. With a greater commitment from donors to part-time students, we can make a greater impact.

Technology, too, is a barrier. Sgt. Barrie was able to afford a laptop, and he was lucky to have a daughter like Gracie to help him learn how to use it. Emergency funding and technology scholarships can have a great impact for returning students who need items like laptops and scientific calculators but cannot fit them into a tight family budget. Like all community colleges, KCC offers short term courses and workshops to help people learn to use this technology so that they can enter into the classes with the kind of confidence which leads to success.

Sgt. Brent Barrie is lucky to have a support network like his family. He knows that his decision to return to school and enhance his qualifications will lead not only to career advancement for him but also to enhanced quality of life for his entire family. This is the kind of achievement and success which moves through generations, changing a family tree forever. Dykstra’s picture which accompanies the article is perhaps the strongest statement of all. As father and son embrace, they celebrate what a dad’s accomplishments and successes mean for his children’s future.

Not everyone can face an intimidating challenge like returning to college with the bravery of a police officer. And we aren’t all as lucky to have a support network to help us meet these challenges. What we do have is community. Through the power of community, we can be the support network for those whose lives may be improved through learning, whose children’s lives will be forever changed for the better. We can vocally encourage them to return to their community college where they will be met by faculty and staff eager help them be successful. We can ensure that the college has the scholarship resources it needs to help every student succeed.

Michael Boyd, a resident of Manteno, became the seventh president of Kankakee Community College on July 1. He joined KCC’s administrative team in 2014.

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