Even though students can begin their studies at any of 12 different times during the year at the College of Southern Maryland, we still think of fall as the beginning of the traditional academic year. CSM is proud to be a community college, a uniquely American form of higher education rooted in American values, that has created opportunities for over 60 years for the residents of Southern Maryland to achieve the American Dream.

The American Dream is woven through the fabric of our national identity, tying together our patchwork quilt of aspiration, opportunity, hard work, mobility and success. We believe hard work improves our economic status. Sometimes that’s true, and sometimes it’s not.

In this nearly full employment economy, many Americans still struggle. This is certainly true in Southern Maryland. According to the United Way, roughly 35% of Southern Marylanders have difficulty making ends meet. Additionally, over half the adults over 25 years old in Southern Maryland do not have a college degree.

A recent survey of Southern Maryland adults conducted on CSM’s behalf showed that fear of incurring debt was a significant barrier to college enrollment. The cost of higher education, combined with staggering loan debt, has caused many to question the value of higher education, to question whether certificates and degrees really do lead to a better life.

There is hope. The American Dream thrives at the College of Southern Maryland. Our vision states we are “transforming lives through lifelong learning and service.” That transformation occurs through high quality, affordable, flexible and relevant programs designed to meet the needs of Southern Marylanders.

Between 2013 and 2018, the College of Southern Maryland awarded 13,514 credentials, and those numbers continue to climb. The wages of CSM graduates increase nearly 150% from one year before graduation to three years afterward. And, 80% of CSM graduates remain in Southern Maryland.

CSM is affordable; tuition is roughly one-fourth that of a public state university. Tuition is kept low because of the support from the state of Maryland and all three Southern Maryland counties. Additionally, the college provides many kinds of financial assistance through grants and scholarships. On average, the return on investment for students is 15.1%.

The College of Southern Maryland is a vital part of the Southern Maryland community, and CSM aligns its programs closely to the local economy, providing the education and training for high-wage, high-demand occupations: engineering, energy technology, trades, nursing and cybersecurity, to name a few. These programs are designed to fit the busy lives of our students, especially those who are in the paid workforce and have family responsibilities.

The doors to the College of Southern Maryland are wide open for all. CSM’s purpose is to help students find the path to economic success that fits their individual needs. With CSM’s relevant, low-cost programs in high-demand fields, the American Dream can become a reality.

Maureen Murphy, La Plata

The writer is president of the College of Southern Maryland.