My grandmother offered me this advice almost 25 years ago when I was about to graduate from high school: “The only thing you can procrastinate is smoking cigarettes.” Her dream was that I go to college. At the time, my family was on food stamps and relied on what little income I brought in from part-time jobs. My younger siblings were in elementary and high school, and I felt strong pressure to work to provide for our family.

My mother on the other hand would say, “Why go to college? You’re going to drop out anyway.” Part of me believed this. English wasn’t my first language. Working and going to school was burdensome. I wasn’t always the best student. Going to college felt not only scary but irresponsible, if not downright impossible. My grandma, however, was insistent I attend college. Her encouragement changed my life’s trajectory. In the spring, I completed my doctorate in higher education leadership.

My story isn’t unique. I frequently witness the incredible resilience and dedication of the students of Santa Fe Community College, where I work.

During my doctoral research, I interviewed 15 community college presidents around the country to find out how they ascended to their position. I learned it was most often their siblings, parents, grandparents, an uncle or an aunt who encouraged them to pursue the further education that set them up for later success. One of the presidents even told me he was tricked into going to college.

One thing I know now that I wish I knew back then: Going to a college like SFCC is the best path to a good-paying job.

Over a lifetime, attending a community college is a smarter investment than finding a low-paying job out of high school. It can also offer considerable savings over enrolling at an expensive college or university, moving away from home and drowning in debt.

Many of the instructors teaching at community colleges also moonlight at universities. The only difference is the tuition you pay. Community colleges often offer small class sizes and provide supportive staff members to help you with more than academic challenges. Many students face food insecurity, poverty and other obstacles that make obtaining a college degree a challenge without support. I am eternally grateful that my grandmother persuaded me to go to college.

I am deeply excited for two new developments expected to benefit SFCC students. First, the SFCC Governing Board recently changed the tuition structure to enable students to take six classes for the price of four. Research shows students who take more classes complete their education at substantially higher rates.

Second, there is additional money available for students. The New Mexico Lottery will pay 100 percent of tuition to recent high school graduates. New Mexico’s Opportunity Scholarship will help adult learners return to college. Also, various state, private and federal scholarship funds could cover books and living expenses.

After earning my bachelor’s degree, I returned to school part time to further my education while working. It took me 20 years because I was working and life circumstances derailed me at times. I wish I could have gone full time. This year, students in the region have the chance to get the funds to attend college full time and get a better-paying job sooner. My grandma did not get to see me complete my education, but her message to me will resonate for a lifetime: Don’t procrastinate. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are not “college material.” College is waiting for you.

Yash Morimoto is the associate vice president for planning and institutional effectiveness at Santa Fe Community College.

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