In response to an op-ed published on May 2 — “Community college saved my life. Thank you, Joe Biden, for trying to make it free” — hundreds of readers wrote to share their personal stories of how community college transformed their lives, or the lives of their friends, family members or students. Here, we share a selection of those accounts.

I flunked out of a state university as a freshman, was aimless, then enrolled in a community college in western Nebraska, where the faculty cared deeply about the success of every student. From there, I went back to a university, graduated, became a journalist and then a physician, and am now about to retire as a health-system executive.

My daughter struggled with poor self-esteem and fell into drug use. She slowly moved back into school through community college in Southern California. Now, a few years later, she has completed her bachelor of science degree in nursing and is serving a challenging population in one of our rural states. To me, community college has saved two lives in our family. — Joanne Roberts, MD, St. Paul, Minn.

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Our local community college saved our daughter’s bacon. She’d struggled from elementary to high school, so after graduation took time off, working as a barista and a nanny. She also grew up a little, became more motivated, and decided she wanted more out of life than working menial jobs. She started taking a couple of night classes at community college while working, then gave up the jobs to become a full-time student.

At the college, she had amazing chemistry teachers who made it fun for her to learn, and taught her important lab practices that have served her well. She finished at the community college with honors and got into her first-choice university. After earning her bachelor’s, again with honors, she went to England to study for a master’s degree. That finished, she ended up at Oxford University for her PhD, financed completely by a European Union scholarship. She’s now a professor teaching in her field of study. All thanks to our local community college, which she always lists on her CV. — Megan Wright, Rosemount, Minn.

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I grew up in Baltimore County a rebellious, underachieving student. When I graduated from high school, I had no plan. Somehow, I applied to the local community college, a start-up in an old rattletrap building a dozen blocks from home. I failed World History 101 and was put on probation, but that shock awakened me to the value of applying myself.

I transferred after two years to earn a teaching degree. Later, married, I earned a master’s at the University of North Carolina, taught for 10 years, had two children and finally decided to take my by then federal career to a higher level. I started law school at the University of Baltimore in a four-year night program as my older child started her freshman year at college. I graduated in 1995, at age 50. I have loved my educational journey, which I attribute to the existence of local public libraries and my community college’s timely inception. — Linda Butler Blumner, Lewes, Del.

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I was a young mother in a bad marriage and needed to be able to support myself. I enrolled in my local community college and took courses to become a nurse, for $9 a credit — the best investment I ever made. I practiced as a nurse for 34 years and am now giving covid-19 vaccinations. If not for community college, I would have had a much different life. — Jalna Jaeger, RN, BSN, Norwalk, Conn.

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I’m writing for my husband, Dr. David Chorjel, who died five months ago, at age 78. Community college saved his life. When he entered, he was a high school dropout, with a bad discharge from the Army, unhappily married with three boys, looking at a bleak future. His best friend, who had recently started community college, encouraged him to try it. My husband walked onto campus and thought he’d never seen such a beautiful place.

He drove a cab all night, took courses during the day, pushed against his doubts. He was the first in his family to attend college and had been told, “We aren’t the college type.” He earned his associate’s degree in psychology, his bachelor’s and master’s in speech pathology and audiology, a special education teaching credential, a school administrator credential, a doctoral degree in clinical psychology and a community college teaching credential. He always said community colleges were the great equalizer of our society, and did more for equal rights than anything he had ever encountered. — Dr. Candace Chorjel, Saratoga, Calif.

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I had the proverbial fire in my belly but was dirt poor. No four-year institution would even look at me: an inner-city kid with an arrest record, alcoholic parents, family problems, single mother, ex-military, no money — all the bad things that tell an admissions office this child is not a good risk. But for $13 a credit, I could go to community college. And I accumulated over 60 semester units in two years there, working, raising my child and pulling in a 4.0 GPA, loaded with STEM classes.

Then I tried to get into a four-year institution. This time, they took me. I don’t have an associate’s degree. But I do have a PhD. Community colleges should be, if anything, more accessible, not less — an educated population is not only good for economic growth, but also essential for the operation of a democracy. — Anna Harding, Ontario

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