Why I Choose to Work at a Community College vs Private Sector

photo of a roll of cash, money isnt everything, do what you loveIt’s no secret that someone with programming, data science, web development, marketing skills & experience could make much more money in the private sector, working anywhere other than a state funded community college, or any state job. I get asked all the time why I choose to do what I do where I do it when other opportunities arise with alluring salaries.

There are several answers that I usually give, the first being that I could never use my skills or talents to help sell a product or service for a company who’d do anything to make a sale or a profit, not caring about anything else or the people they sell to. Not my thing. It’s a requirement for me that whatever I do with most of my time HELPS people.

I tend to have a different view than most, of what I can accomplish using the information I can gather for marketing efforts, web development and other uses across the college. I don’t do what I do for the money, I do what I do to help people who aren’t aware of the programs and services we offer that can better their lives and the lives of their families. If someone needs a GED, we can help and we can help them get into the workforce quickly, many times at no cost. I use my skills to make people aware of opportunities and to help figure out what workforce needs are out there, and what programs our students are looking for – even if we don’t have them. I do what I do to HELP. I know I’ll never be rich & that’s ok.

I was a victim of the “I have no idea what I am doing” student loan trap when I went straight to a university from high school – young with no clue and with little access to anyone who did have a clue! For the love of all that is Holy, I want to save anyone I can from needless debt. We offer all of the core courses needed for someone who wants to go to a 4 year college and they’re guaranteed to transfer. Why pay twice as much (or more) at a university when you can get what you need and save money? Time travel, please? I wish I knew then what I know now.

Today, web, data and programming work hand in hand in everything from marketing to business intelligence. In higher ed, it’s traditionally been difficult to measure marketing success, workforce needs, student and program needs, etc. Marketing budgets (as well as all public college budgets in general) have not risen much, if at all, in many years. Although some schools across the country are at least partially funded based on student success, enrollment currently drives our budget. Our college is extremely affordable, we don’t fish for veterans just for their GI benefits or take advantage of students, like I once was, with no clue about the cost of college – we’re all at work for the success of our students. I honestly get angry when I see fancy commercials for proprietary schools that exist to make money and take advantage of people in any way possible to bring in the dough. I want to help keep community colleges able to compete with the proprietary schools that invade communities with their insane marketing budgets. We can’t compete with that kind of money, but we can use what we have in smarter ways than they do. I like to figure all of that out, it’s like finding the golden needle in a haystack. It’s like a chess game and when it works, a win feels good.

Sometimes community colleges get a bad rap. Some people think they are for people who can’t go straight to a 4 year college, or call them “13th grade”. After my educational experience, I wish I could’ve seen the future and had known that the smartest choice I could’ve made would have been to get every course I could take at a CC before heading to get my bachelors and eventually, my master’s degree. I pay the price for being young and dumb every month when I make that student loan payment!

I have worked at a public university, the workplace is completely different. I felt like I had a lot of freedom, but I was also lost in a crowd, a cog in the wheel. Even though I work for a large community college, most people know each other. When I have an idea, it’s heard, I don’t have to get lucky (or use 3 wishes) to get people who can help in the same room. I have access to the people that listen, get behind the good ideas and help make them happen. That’s rare. Hello, my lone wolve clan, you can’t change things alone.

Where I work every day is a community, it’s a family, and it is rewarding. Yes, like any job, there are times you forget that- days that suck, days (or months, or years) that are really stressful, times when you feel like you’re spinning your wheels, times when you feel like no one gets or cares about what you are doing, days when gray hairs grow immediately in mass quantities . News Flash – I’ve been doing what I do for a lot of years, in a lot of places….all of those things are part of work, even when you work for yourself. During those times, I try to remind myself WHY I do the job I do. I hope that colleagues and other people in doing this work, can remind themselves of our why: to help people, to improve our communities, our state, the economy in general, but most of all to give people a chance to make better lives for themselves through education.