Deptford Twp. – The rising cost of higher education has many students and their families considering their options and possible alternatives to the traditional pathway provided by four-year universities.
For 18-year-old Michele Duerstock of Woolwich, this decision was put into perspective when she just missed qualifying for the NJ STARS program. Unsure of where to continue her studies, she was approached by her high school guidance counselor who told her she would receive the Gloucester County College Presidential Start Smart Scholarship.
“Money is always a factor in selecting a college,” said Duerstock. “The fact that GCC has the lowest tuition in New Jersey, and that the college was willing to put money toward my education, really cemented my decision to start at the community college level.”
Created by GCC, the “Start Smart” scholarship is designed for students ranked directly under the top 15 percent of their graduating class. It provides qualified first-year students with a $1,000 award when enrolled in a full-time course of study.
Fellow Start Smart recipient Jared Stevens, of Vineland, agrees.
“The biggest factor in deciding on GCC was the low-cost tuition,” said Stevens. “One of my friends came here and liked her experience. She said it went a long way in helping her to afford her four-year degree.”
In addition to the Presidential Start Smart Scholarship, the NJ STARS program is still a popular option. Among Gloucester County’s best and brightest are Sara Palmerchuck and Tim Mangano. Both are studying at GCC with aspirations of becoming a chemical engineer and a veterinarian respectively.
“My parents sat me down and were honest,” said Palmerchuck, 20, of Washington Township. “They couldn’t help me out. At the same time I saw friends of mine who transferred to GCC because they couldn’t afford to stay at a four-year school. Some were $40,000 in debt after one year, which is scary.”
“I was originally accepted into the pre-med program at Rutgers University in New Brunswick when my mom showed me a brochure on the GCC Equine Science program,” said Mangano, 20, of West Deptford. “I saw that everything was transferable. I basically go here for free so it was a huge impact factor in my choice of college.”
Despite her initial hesitation, Palmerchuck said that studying at GCC provided her with opportunities she otherwise would not have had taking the traditional four-year route. Duerstock, who plans to study broadcast journalism or film production, said one of the greatest perks of attending GCC is its active campus life.
“The professors are great. Some are adjuncts who work in the field and they’ll apply what they did on the job that day to what we learn in class,” said Palmerchuck. “Also starting at GCC gave me more time to consider other colleges. Because of it I found my perfect fit and I’ve saved up enough for my first year.”
“I never expected to be a part of the first women’s tennis team to win a national championship title,” said Duerstock. “There is always so much going on on-campus. I’m really getting the college experience.”
The Presidential Start Smart Scholarship is managed by the GCC Foundation. The Foundation promotes educational programs and capital projects to enhance student services. According to Director of Development Ray Page, it possesses $2.8 million in total resources and gifts $150,000 annually to students from within the community.
“In today’s economy you need to be smart with your money. You can’t assume things will work out in the end,” said Palmerchuck.