Students seek second chance at education with CCAC


Claire Kleffman

Sarah Svoboda is one of many new students at CCAC who started at a four-year college but left without a degree.

Rob Velella, North Campus Advisor

“It was not for me,” said Sarah Svoboda, reflecting on her college experience beginning at Seton Hill University.

Svoboda, who is now in her first semester at CCAC North preparing for a Nursing degree, lived on campus while studying Early Childhood Education, but came home on weekends. Despite enjoying her experience living in a dorm and the friends she made at Seton Hill, she soon realized it was not for her. “It was hard to be away from home,” said Svoboda.

Svoboda is among many students who struggled or were otherwise unhappy at four-year institutions before attending CCAC.

After two semesters at Seton Hill, she moved on to Robert Morris University and switched her major to Biology. She said her main motivation for the change was finding a job. “It was difficult because many of my credits I completed at Seton Hill would not transfer because of the major change.” Because of lost credits, the college considered her a first-year student despite being in her second year.

Classes were tough to schedule for Svoboda, too. “I found it hard to get into classes I needed or wanted to take. They were having me take classes on the summer break to catch up,” she said.

After a health scare that almost resulted in a withdrawal for medical reasons, Svoboda transferred to CCAC on the recommendation of her mother, a CCAC alumna. She cites cost-saving and scheduling flexibility as part of the appeal of CCAC. “Because of recent health issues and the overall cost of big universities, I found it a more acceptable option to try CCAC,” said Svoboda.

Once she completes her associate degree in Nursing, Svoboda intends to move on to a bachelor’s degree program.

Kyle Reese played varsity basketball at a branch campus of Penn State. But, he said, “The weather in Erie during the school and winter months is truly brutal.” He took a semester off to weigh his options before enrolling at CCAC North. Ultimately, he sees himself attending school in South Carolina in the future.

“In the meantime,” he said, “I chose CCAC to further my education because it is close to my home.” His classes are likely to transfer easily, he said, and he believes they will only improve his interest in these subjects.

Reese’s story is not unusual. A 2014 report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center notes that 31 million American students have left college without completing their program in the past 20 years. The Organization for Economic Cooperation claims that the U.S. has the highest dropout rate in the industrial world.

According to an article by Connie Matthiessen, students leave four-year institutions for various reasons, including cost, personal readiness, and finding that an institution just was not a “good fit.” Others have difficulty with the mental burden. Those who are first in their family to attend college are even more likely to give up.

Studies show, however, that community colleges like CCAC can assist in the transition.

Nancy Lee Sánchez, executive director of the Kaplan Education Foundation, writes that students who attend community college before transferring to a four-year school are more likely to graduate. She argues that selective four-year institutions should actively seek out these students and assist them in the transfer process. “The bottom line? Transfer students from community colleges are the group most likely to actually graduate,” writes Sánchez in a recent Forbes article.

The trend of moving from a bachelor’s program to community college, sometimes known as “reverse transfer,” is not new. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported in 2012 that studies showed about 14 percent of first-time students who enrolled at a four-year institution in the fall of 2005 had transferred to a community college by 2011.