When Luke Lengel was young, his parents, Ray and Liz, started a college fund for him. But as he grew up and the cost of an education continued to rise, they realized that what they had saved wasn’t going to be enough.
“So as we were preparing him for college, we talked with him about how much money we had and how much it would cost,” Liz Lengel says. “We asked him, ‘How much debt do you want to have when you graduate?’”
Understanding that college debt can hang over graduates for years, or even decades, Lengel’s answer was zero.
“I wanted to get out of college with the least amount of debt possible,” he says.
While researching options, Lengel learned that Lorain County Community College offers several programs that could reduce the cost of his college education, while connecting him with valuable learning opportunities close to home.
“We were trying to save as much money as possible,” Liz says. “When you’re deciding where you’re going to go to school and someone says, ‘We have a top-notch program that will leave money in your pocket,’ you jump on that.”
Earning early credit
When Lengel was a junior at North Ridgeville High School, his guidance counselor told him about Ohio’s College Credit Plus program, which allows students to enroll in LCCC courses at their high school to receive dual high school and college credit, at no cost to themselves.
With the opportunity to get a jump on college, Lengel completed three college-level courses through the CCP program.
“It was a good challenge for me,” says Lengel, who also played soccer, ran track and led a Bible study at the school. “I was able to earn college credit, and it really helped prepare me for other high-level courses.”
His mother says the small class sizes allowed Luke to create strong connections with his professors and classmates.
“That’s a huge plus that he will have these great connections when he graduates from LCCC,” she says.
Pursuing a higher degree for less
When Lengel graduated high school in May 2017, his grade point average and test scores earned him a full scholarship at LCCC. He expects to earn his associate of science degree in May 2020 and then his bachelor of science degree in computer science and engineering from The University of Toledo through LCCC’s University Partnership program.
He says he chose the program because it offers a quality college education, without accumulating student debt — all close to home at LCCC’s University Partnership Ridge Campus in North Ridgeville. And because he doesn’t have to worry about cost, or fitting in classes around a full-time job, he’s able to give full attention to his studies.
“Getting a head start out of college, that’s an advantage I have over a lot of my peers who are going to university,” Lengel says. “Being on scholarship, I can really look ahead and focus on my studies while saving up money, instead of worrying how I’m going to pay for everything.”
Gaining work experience
Lengel hasn’t yet decided which aspect of computer science to pursue, but he’s confident that LCCC’s cooperative education program will help him find his way. The program partners with area businesses to give students the opportunity to gain work-based experience and explore career options.
This spring Lengel will start a co-op at Crown Equipment Corp., one of the largest manufacturers of powered industrial forklift trucks in the world. As a software engineer in test, he’ll be writing and modifying computer programs and testing and reviewing work by other developers.
“I’m really happy I get the chance to gain work experience this early in my collegiate career,” he says. “This will help me discover exactly what I want to do with my degree.”
Lengel’s mom is just as grateful for the chances he has to explore career options in a program that connects students to opportunities in their majors and allows partner companies to build their hiring pipeline.
“The fact that they provide this through the co-ops, where students are learning hands-on at big companies, I think that’s a great way to learn, and it’s a great opportunity he has to understand what he’ll be doing after he graduates,” she says. “I’m glad we’re taking advantage of it.”
The experience has been so positive that Liz says the family is considering a similar path for their daughter, Anna, who’s a senior at North Ridgeville this year. Liz Lengel is also encouraging other parents to evaluate the potential cost-savings and opportunities that LCCC’s partnership programs offer students.
“I don’t know if people have really researched all the options that are available to these kids at LCCC, but comparing the cost makes a big difference,” she says. “I’m very pleased we chose this route, and so is Luke. Hopefully, other people find out about it, too, because it’s been a great blessing.”