I graduated in 1977 from Gamewell-Collettsville High School in Caldwell County. Gamewell ceased to exist after that year as the school was consolidated with Lenoir High School to create what is now West Caldwell High School. I remember the following year the first graduating class from West Caldwell came back and painted in white letters, “Graduating Class of 1978,”on the side of the old Gamewell building. Having gone to Gamewell for eleven years they had no real emotional affiliation with the new school.
1977 was not the best time to be graduating from high school. In many ways kids today are graduating under similar circumstances. The 1970’s was the worst decade of economic performance in the United States since the 1930s and the Great Depression. Unemployment was high and a great spike in gas prices in 1973 helped drive the economy into a recession. High gas prices increased inflation which topped out at 13.3% in 1979 as businesses had to adjust their prices upward to cover gas costs. Manufacturing and exports declined and imports increased and the U.S. saw its last trade surplus in 1975. Interest rates climbed into the double digits hitting a high of 21.98% by 1980. People have forgotten that in the 70s for a while gas was being rationed. Those with a license plate ending in an odd number were allowed to buy gas on odd-numbered days and those with even-numbered plates were allowed to buy gasoline on even-numbered days. With new car interest rates at 17%, after graduation we walked out like lambs into a world of wolves.
My nephew is graduating this year and I hope that he and his fellow students are going to find their post- graduation life a little easier and more inviting. That is the American dream really, that each generation have it a little bit better than the last; that they have a little bit more opportunity, a little bit better chance to have their dreams come true and be happy. Their best chance lies in furthering their education. Education is still seen by most Americans as the best chance they have to increase their income and improve their lives. However, college costs have sky-rocketed in the last few years. After I graduated, a community college official told me there was no financial reason for anyone not to be able to go to college in the U.S. I don’t think that is true for those graduating now. North Carolina has a great community college system, though, that is the envy of a lot of states. Costs are lower at a community college than at a university, and students can live at home and work locally full time while going to school part-time or work part-time and go to school full-time.
The great thing about graduating from a community college before transferring is that you already have a college degree. I saw students at the university drop out after three years of college because of financial or personal reasons. All they could put down on their resume was that they attended college. Had they graduated from a community college first they would already have had a degree to put down. A friend of mine and his wife both have PhDs, but he tells her he is one degree up on her because he got an Associate Degree from a community college. Another perk to graduating from a community college is that you are almost certain to be accepted at any state university in N.C. when you get ready to transfer. Personally, I felt I got better instructors at the community college level overall where teachers are pushed to teach rather than publish or do research.
I worked and went to a community college and got an Associate Degree and then transferred. One of my other nephews did the same thing, transferring to Appalachian State, and he is now a history teacher at Watauga High. Going to a university can be a personally growing and rewarding experience. If nothing else it allows you to get away from home and learn a new area. You get to meet people from all over the country and even from other parts of the world. When I went, two out of every three that enrolled as freshmen at a university dropped out before they graduated. They were smart and often had the money, but in most cases they were just not mature enough to handle the responsibility of being a student on a university campus. Staying near home and attending a community college like Mitchell while gaining some work experience might have been a wiser choice for many of them.
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “Get schooled on advantages of community college” on June 3, 2009