Steve Givens a lifelong St. Louisan, the retired associate vice chancellor and chief of staff at Washington University, and a graduate of St. Louis Community College shares his story and the impact of St. Louis Community College on his life and our community.
When I graduated from high school in 1978, I wasn’t sure what came next. I came from a working-class family in North St. Louis, and the idea of going to college was supported but not really expected or overly encouraged. It was up to me.
My father was a mail carrier in the Hyde Park neighborhood making about $25,000 a year. My mother was a homemaker. But they had worked hard and saved as well as they could, and I was told they would pay for college if that’s what I ended up wanting to do, as long as I was still living at home.
Unsure as I was about the whole thing, I took what I thought was a pragmatic route and went to work full-time and started going to the Florissant “Flo Valley” campus of St. Louis Community College in the evenings, wending my way through a quick series of majors (human services to business to communication) before graduating a few years later and moving on to the University of Missouri-St. Louis. My parents paid a whopping $17 per credit hour tuition at the community college for a few years before I married and lost that familial financial support. After that, I kept working and kept going to school at night.
I had been an exceedingly average, if unmotivated, high school student with some innate abilities but lazy study habits and little confidence. What I learned from our community college was not a specific trade but, rather, a way of thinking and learning. I learned that if I worked hard and put in the time, good things would begin to happen. I learned to write and communicate clearly. I learned to appreciate the past for what it can teach us and look to a brighter future because I was better prepared. After a few unsuccessful tries, I even came to friendly terms with algebra, finding at my job at a local engineering equipment company that it did, in fact, have uses in real life.
It may not have been the typical “college experience” we see in movies, but for so many of us, our community college was a way up and out, a foundation for the rest of life. Whether we went on to further education or found a trade, we came into our own and hit our stride. We came to believe we could go out into the world, contribute to something larger and make a difference.
On August 3, we all have an opportunity to make a difference by supporting St. Louis Community College with a yes vote for Proposition R. Whether we or our children attended or not, we all know some of the 50,000 students who annually did, and we have a chance to invest in its future. For those of us of a certain age, a vote for Proposition R is a thank you note to the past and a nod of confidence to the future. St. Louis Community College has been there for so many of us over the years, and with Prop. R we have a chance to pay it forward, ensuring affordable, accessible and time-flexible education and training for a new generation of St. Louis workers and professionals, as well as retraining others in a workplace landscape that inevitably changes. It’s an investment in the future of St. Louis.
Without the funds that will be made available by Prop. R, our 60-year-old community college does not have the funding to keep up and ensure that it will have the technology and infrastructure necessary to create generations of lifelong learners who are job-ready for careers in healthcare, IT, financial services, biotechnology, manufacturing and so many other fields that pay well and support families and communities.
Proposition R is an investment not only in these young people but in the businesses that need them to continue to grow and prosper. Prop. R is the first operating tax increase for St. Louis Community in college in more than 40 years, and its record of job creation illustrates an excellent return on our investment. It’s an investment in all of us, and it’s up to us.