As graduation nears for high school seniors on the Peninsula, they and their families are actively considering their next step in life’s journey. For many graduates, it will mean pursuing an associate or baccalaureate degree at one of Virginia’s outstanding colleges and universities.
Digby Solomon, retired publisher of the Daily Press, penned a column last December on the promise and excitement that higher education holds for our young people: “College is a unique opportunity to expand your horizons under the tutelage of gifted professors with a passion for their field, surrounded by enthusiastic fellow scholars. We are uplifted by acquiring knowledge for its own sake, as well as to learn a career.”
At the same time, however, Solomon bemoaned the “crippling debt” that a large number of students take on in pursuit of a degree, making the system “unsustainable” for many: “A majority of Virginia university students—59 percent—graduated in 2015 owing $27,000 each, according to a study by the Institute for College Access & Success.”
Virginia’s Community Colleges, and Thomas Nelson, in particular, were founded in large part to keep higher education accessible and affordable. The current cost of tuition and fees for an in-state student to attend Thomas Nelson is $160.20 per credit hour. That means that students can complete a full year of college coursework (30 credits) for less than $5,000. Admittedly, this is still a large amount of money for many students and their families, but it stacks up well in comparison to other options.
This cost is significantly reduced for approximately half of our students who qualify for federal and state financial aid, scholarships made possible by generous donors, and other means of financial assistance. Another way the college works to keep costs manageable is extensive use in a number of courses of open educational resources, as opposed to traditional textbooks that can be quite expensive.
Affordability by itself, however, does not constitute genuine value unless matched with high quality. With an average class size of 20, Thomas Nelson’s outstanding faculty deliver current and challenging instruction in a personalized manner in which students thrive as active learners. And our dedicated staff provide knowledgeable and individualized support services, such as academic advising and tutoring across a range of subject areas, to ensure student success and guide our graduates on the next step of their journey.
For many students, that next step after completing their associate degree at Thomas Nelson is to transfer to universities for upper-division coursework and completion of a bachelor’s degree under well-structured “Two Plus Two” arrangements. Depending on their aspirations and their academic performance while at Thomas Nelson, graduates taking advantage of Guaranteed Admission Agreements have many choices for transfer both within our region (Old Dominion University, Christopher Newport University, Virginia Commonwealth University, The College of William & Mary, Norfolk State University, Virginia Wesleyan University) and beyond at Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia, and many more.
Other students are attracted to our career and technical programs that lead directly to employment in high demand fields. Thomas Nelson offers applied degrees and certificates in fields such as registered nursing, dental hygiene, emergency medical services, automotive, HVAC, paralegal, human services, accounting, information technology, cybersecurity, graphic arts, unmanned aircraft systems, machining, welding, mechatronics, and a variety of other programs associated with advanced manufacturing and digital shipbuilding, all of which are so vital to the economy of the Peninsula.
Whatever program and path forward that students pursue, Thomas Nelson offers that “unique opportunity to expand your horizons under the tutelage of gifted professors with a passion for their field, surrounded by enthusiastic fellow scholars,” as observed by Solomon. In 2018, Thomas Nelson Biology Professor Jennifer Martin received the prestigious Outstanding Faculty Award administered by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. Also in 2018, Thomas Nelson graduate Rebecca Holmes received the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, valued at $40,000 per year for up to three years, for the nation’s top community college students seeking to complete bachelor’s degrees. These are just notable examples of excellence in teaching and learning that are pervasive throughout the college.
Yes, higher education can be both excellent and affordable, opening up a range of possibilities for students to experience personal growth and prepare themselves for productive and rewarding careers without incurring “crippling debt” in the process. It happens every day at Thomas Nelson Community College—truly a value proposition for the discerning student.