On moving to Galesburg almost 30 years ago, I was introduced to Carl Sandburg College. At that time my understanding of the community college system was limited at best, and what I thought I knew — I have since discovered — was horribly slanted. I really didn’t have a clue about the college on the north edge of my new hometown.

When we relocated our children were 10, 8, 6 and 4. We were at that time concerned about them fitting into grade school; their college years were only a very distant objective. We had started a college savings program, but those were the years when putting food on the table and shoes on their feet was a bit more pressing than saving scarce dollars for the future. Besides, college was a long way off over a very distant horizon.

I am not certain when or why we did it, but my wife and I set a goal of helping each of our kids get a four-year college degree without going into debt. With four offspring in the space of just six years, what could we have been thinking?

As our oldest daughter was finishing her junior year of high school, it dawned on us that Carl Sandburg College could play a significant role in attaining that debt-free goal. Not only could they earn exactly one half of their college credits at a tuition rate that was in some cases about one tenth the cost of some four-year schools, they could continue to live at home. If you have been to college, you understand how drastically expensive room and board is! A good deal of the sticker shock of college is found when you have to pay that bill up front each semester. I reasoned that we were already used to providing room and board, so why not use what we had? It was like a big raise with no tax.

Our children were excellent students and we discovered that the biggest obstacle to overcome was the assumption that a Sandburg education would be substandard. By this time we had lived in Galesburg long enough that I had a pretty good idea this was a myth — and boy, was I ever right on that. Sandburg is fully accredited, and several health programs have career-specific accreditations. The fact that Sandburg today has binding transfer agreements with the entire Illinois public university system, as well as nine private four-year institutions, is vivid evidence of the quality education our students receive. The motto, “Start here and finish there” is an option that gets better with every added agreement. I personally saw the transfer of credits work seamlessly four times in our children’s experience. You do have to pay attention to the details, but this process works.

I can’t say enough about the positives of Sandburg. What I can tell you is that our four children did it debt free. They had to work very hard, but Sandburg provided the affordable springboard that led to four bachelor’s degrees, three master’s degrees (Illinois State University, Yale Medical School and the University of Illinois), and one PhD (University of Illinois School of Engineering). It all started at Carl Sandburg College.

I believe so strongly in what Sandburg does for these 10 counties of western Illinois that four years ago I decided to run for the Sandburg Board of Trustees. Since being elected, I have gained an ever-deepening appreciation of what Sandburg does and how it operates. If you are looking for a strong and affordable start for your child’s higher education, then you will be hard pressed to do better than having them begin at Sandburg. And by the way, be sure to check out the Galesburg Promise if you live in the Burg.

The Rev. Lee Johnson is a trustee on the Carl Sandburg College Board of Trustees and retired pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Galesburg.