SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (STCC) – Not long after Springfield Technical Community College student Miranda Kamukala graduated from Agawam High School in the summer of 2019, her older sister Sarah forced her to get down to brass tacks about the cost of college. Kamukala – a cross country star in high school – looked forward to running track in college as well. Her excellent grades had gotten her a hefty scholarship to Salve Regina University in Rhode Island.
Her sister, who had graduated from the University of Massachusetts that spring with burdensome loan payments, shared hard-earned wisdom with her younger (by six years) sister: don’t go deeply into debt.
They discussed what her loan payments would be, and Kamukala came to a hard decision. She would not enroll at the private four-year liberal arts college after all.
Even factoring in the scholarship, Kamukala, 19, said: “It was just way too much money — they gave me a lot of money but it was not enough.”
First year STCC student Sara Maria, also 19, from Ludlow, had a strikingly similar conversation with her brother just as she was poised to send in her deposit to Syracuse University or Bentley University. They sat down and made a spread sheet that factored in details including all the money she saved, what her costs would be, what interest she would pay on her loans.
“I could have done it,” she said, “but after graduation I would have been in poverty for a few years.”
For both young women, that decision was not an easy one. But neither regretted it.
“At first I was really upset because I don’t think I understood the value of money,” Kamukala said in an interview two weeks before she graduated with an associate degree that set her up to transfer to the Elms College School of Nursing. She wants to become a nurse-midwife.
STCC President John B. Cook often tells prospective students that STCC – the only technical community college in Massachusetts – offers low-cost and unique programs.
“We are the most affordable higher education institution in Springfield,” Cook said. “Many of our students save thousands of dollars by choosing STCC over a more expensive four-year college or university. They get an incredible value. STCC offers pathways in key fields that include health care, computer science, engineering and the creative economy that includes graphic arts. We also are proud of our federal designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution. We offer unparalleled opportunities to first-generation college students, students of color and those from low-income families. Most of our students receive some form of financial aid.”
Kamukala, Maria and a third STCC student were interviewed by an NBC News crew for a story about President Biden’s proposal to make community colleges tuition-free. The piece aired on MSNBC on June 3 and may get picked up on other programs, including possibly NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt. Also interviewed for the 4-minute was Christopher Goossens, a Hampden resident on track to graduate with an associate degree in digital media after finishing up two summer courses.
Goossens transferred to STCC after a semester at Amherst College, where he had won a baseball scholarship. He realized it was not the right place for him when he found himself yearning for classes that would provide practical skills that he could put to use in a job. Though some of his friends couldn’t believe he would leave Amherst College for STCC, he felt it was one of the best decisions he could have made.
In fact, a course he took his first semester at STCC taught him how to work a video editing program that he now uses in a full-time job in a job he loves as a videographer and video producer for a hip-hop YouTube Channel with nearly 600,000 subscribers.
So, when asked if he wanted to participate in a national news segment about STCC he didn’t have to think about it.
“It was supercool to see STCC highlighted like that,” he said. “It was a real honor to be on the show to represent STCC because I love it here.”
Maria, who also took part in the interview, said it was an illuminating experience. “I’ve never done anything with national news and I’m interested in marketing and communication so it’s cool to be on the other side of it,” she said.
The trio wound up spending about three hours with the news crew on a Monday in May, time spent in interviews with broadcast news reporter Ali Vitali and also to shoot B-roll around campus. Kamukala also was a quick sell when invited to be part of the segment.
“I was very excited,” she said. “It wasn’t something I had to think about, I was so excited.”
But in truth, the real source of her excitement is the way her two years at STCC changed her life in so many ways. When she decided to change her major from psychology to general studies so she could take the nursing prerequisites she needed, she had plenty of people to show her the way.
“It kind of felt like a community. If I needed anything people were always there,” she said. “My advisor has been holding my hand helping me. I could go to her with anything.”
And there was another eye-opening experience for her at STCC: its racial diversity.
Growing up in Agawam, where she attended predominantly white public schools she hadn’t realized that she was missing something important.
“My first day at STCC I was astounded. It was the first time I was in a situation where I wasn’t the only Black person,” she said. She began making friends with other Black students.
“It was just such a happy feeling, a feeling like I belonged,” she said. “I never had that feeling before STCC.