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Why Mat-Su?

May 9, 2017

High school seniors in Matanuska-Susitna Borough graduated across the district this last week. The question of “What’s next?” seemed to echo across the Menard Sports Center and the Palmer High gym. For those considering post secondary education, or seniors looking to make college their next stop, Mat-Su College (MSC) is a practical option.

   “Because Mat-Su is a small campus, it’s at more of an intimate level. The professors are more invested and they’re more interested in your learning,” UAA Master of Education graduate and Wasilla High School teacher Emily Forstner said.

   MSC is a community college and an extended campus of the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA). UAA has been accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) since 1974. Roughly 2000 students attend the MSC campus- five buildings on a 950-acre site located in Palmer- each semester.

“I meet with a lot of students who do not realize that we are an extended campus of the University of Alaska Anchorage. In fact, the majority of our students are taking their general education requirements and entry-level courses for many of the UAA-Anchorage degree programs at Mat-Su,” MSC Admission Representative Mariana Weatherby said.

   With many students uninformed about MSC, it’s understandable why students may have mixed opinions about MSC. Across media, four-year schools receive all the hype. Pressure from parents and peers leave the idea in students’ minds that four-year degrees are the only guaranteed path to a respectful and successful career.

“It’s very common for students who stay close to home for college feel a sense of failure as if they’re not doing as much as a friend who leaves for school out of state. But,” Forstner continued, “that’s how teens look at it no matter where they live. I think they ought to look at it this way: going to school beyond high school you have to leave the petty jealousies behind. It doesn’t matter where you go when you are dedicated to learning and growing. Plus, believe me,” Forstner said, “you don’t want a lot of student debt.”

According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees at a two-year school is only about $3,000, which is roughly over one-third of the cost for one year at a four-year public institution. Usually, students who attend community college do not have to worry about the costs and fees of a room and board being able to live at home. The housing can be the expensive part of going to school out of state. Cutting these costs offer a more affordable education option.

While two-year colleges like MSC do not offer the “campus life” that universities do, students are still part of a university community and proud of their school.

“I would say I’m proud to be part of Mat-Su. Anytime you are working toward a large goal, like a degree, you get a sense of pride as you slowly pass milestones,” UAA nursing student Travis Johnson said.

For every student, receiving an education and leaving with a degree in hand is the end goal. According to the College Atlas, 30 percent of all college freshman drop out their first year, and 60 percent of those dropped out because of financial difficulties. So, community college is a starting point for anyone to ease into earning a degree and stay in college, too. At MSC, students can explore their interests and career options before they have to commit to a major at a four-year school.

   “Make sure you come into your first year and hit the ground running. Take your courses seriously and strive for excellence in every class. It’s hard to understand how important these next few years are and how they will affect the rest of your life, but they do and will in an unbelievable way,” Johnson said.

Less than half (41.89 percent) of Americans over the age of 25 have a college degree. Students often do not realize that while where you go to school does not matter, the location of the college is not as important as your education. At the end of the day, students either graduate college with a degree, or they don’t.It’s the same bachelor of science or arts degree, whether it’s from UAA or Harvard or MSC.

“I had a doctor of chiropractic tell me that he started at MSC! We also have a student who is currently in law school. You can start here and still see the world. I guess the point I am trying to make is that it doesn’t matter where you start, it’s the connections that you make while you are there,” Weatherby said.

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