Spoon River College is joining with community colleges throughout the nation in celebrating April as Community College Month. Spoon River College District 534 is part of the Illinois Community College System, the third largest in the nation.

The Spoon River College district includes the counties of Fulton, Mason, McDonough, and portions of Schuyler, with campuses in Canton and Macomb and Centers in Havana and Rushville.

“Community colleges are first-class institutions that are vital to our local and state economies,” said Curt Oldfield, president of Spoon River College. “Celebrating Community College Month is an opportunity to highlight the value they add to individuals and to the communities where they are located.”

Public community colleges were designed to guarantee access to affordable, high-quality higher education for all people. They are the primary educators of nursing and other healthcare professionals, serve as an onramp to bachelor’s, master’s and higher-level degrees, prepare people for the workforce, provide adult literacy programs, community classes that enhance personal and professional development, and lifelong learning opportunities.

Community colleges are there for their communities in times of crisis, and are the most in-demand institutions during and following times of economic recession. Community colleges are committed to meeting their communities’ basic needs, including access to food, housing, transportation, childcare and other services while students seek education and vital workforce training.

A student can save approximately $12,000 over a two-year period by taking the same courses from a community college as they would at other educational institutions, even more if utilizing state and federal grants and local foundation scholarships, lessening the need for student loans.

“Community colleges are a good value, whether the goal of the student is workforce training or transfer to a four-year university,” said Oldfield, referencing a recent study conducted by Northern Illinois University (NIU) Center for Governmental Studies. “Spoon River College graduates can expect a gain of more than $725,000 in total lifetime earnings, and will generate millions of dollars in local, state and federal taxes,” Oldfield said. “It was estimated that Spoon River College has over an $8 million economic impact in west central Illinois.”

Community colleges were created to serve the needs of their communities, and they do it exceptionally well. Despite all of this, community colleges are too often considered the lesser choice when in reality they are exactly the right choice.