I speak and write often about the power of education to change lives. And I have devoted my career to helping students personally experience this power. The first step in achieving this goal is to ensure that students have access to higher education.
One of the first methods of increasing access is to minimize financial barriers. In addition to federal and state government help, each year the Waubonsee Foundation offers more than 150 scholarships/300 awards to new and returning Waubonsee students. And we have consolidated Foundation and institutional scholarships into one platform so that students can apply for all Waubonsee scholarships in the same portal as well as see their full financial aid package, including scholarships, in one place. Just for completing the financial aid process, Waubonsee rewards students with at least $250 to help pay tuition, fees, and/ or course materials. In addition, many students receive scholarships as a student-athlete or as one of our prestigious Gustafson Scholars.
For those students who may still owe some tuition, we offer flexible, interest-free payments plans. Just $25 down holds their registration while applying for assistance. And the earlier students register, the smaller their payments! We also recognize other costs, such as the cost of books and other course materials. Books and course materials may be charged to student accounts and paid off as part of payment plans or from scholarships and grants. In addition, many courses offer books and course materials through our Inclusive Access program or Open Educational Resources (OER). When students register for an Inclusive Access or OER class, digital access to the lowest cost or no cost course materials is provided automatically. In addition, students may borrow a laptop, hotspot, webcam, or other equipment to complete their coursework through Waubonsee’s Technical Assistance Center.
Other common barriers to higher education involve geographic location and flexibility. Waubonsee’s 2020 College Master Plan, completed in 2015, strategically included construction of Waubonsee’s Plano Campus, our Innovation and Design Center, which opened in 2010. Now a four-campus network, a Waubonsee campus is within 15 minutes through all areas of our more than 600 square-mile district. And, utilizing data, we work to match our service hours to demand. Recent adoption of alternative work schedules provides additional options through virtual appointments and creative scheduling.
Our MyChoice initiative provides flexibility in how, when, and where students take classes with face-to-face, online, hybrid, sync online, and flex class options. As the name suggests, Flex classes provide the greatest flexibility allowing students to choose from among face-to-face, sync online, or online delivery methods throughout the course, depending on what works best for them on any given day. Community partnerships provide flexibility for high school students and employers as well. Many high school students take advantage of the opportunity to save time and money by taking dual credit classes while in high school. Students who participate earn both high school and college credit at the same time with many classes taught at their own high school or at one of Waubonsee’s four campus locations. And employers work with us to develop and deliver customized training for their workforce or create a structured work-based learning opportunity through an apprenticeship program.
Another way that we are increasing access to education is through Waubonsee’s Access Center for Disability Resources. The Access Center provides customized services to meet the individual needs of each student. The specialists personally engage with students and provide various services, including recommendations for academic accommodations, assistive technology training, college success strategy workshops, and advocacy services. We provide opportunities for students to succeed and offer education and training for those who will work in fields that improve opportunities for those with invisible and visible disabilities.
We believe everyone should have access to higher education. And we believe that Waubonsee should be your first choice for education within our community. Please take a few moments and listen to a few Waubonsee students and alumni speak to “the power of education to change lives” at /mymedia.waubonsee.edu/media/Power%20of%20Education/1_it877s4m and contact Waubonsee today.
• Christine J. Sobek is president of Waubonsee Community College.