A lost teen. A caring counselor. A good community college. A successful man.

Noel F. Khalil is founder and principal of Columbia Residential, a leading affordable housing developer based in Atlanta.

In this essay, Khalil explains why he supports President Obama’s proposal to make community college free. He says a community college played a major role in his career success.

By Noel F. Khalil

Growing up in the Bronx, a borough of New York City, the son of two immigrants from the island of Jamaica, I attended Catholic schools. School was a struggle for me because I had difficulty staying focused.

leadership-noel_0

Noel F. Khalil credits community college for setting him on a path to success.

By the time I entered Cardinal Hayes High School, my lack of concentration caught up with me, and in my junior year I received a “pink slip” in the mail telling my parents that I was dismissed for academic reasons.

My West Indian mother was crushed and promptly kicked me in the posterior – literally.

I then reported to my neighborhood public high school, where I met Ms. Thomas, an English teacher and a guidance counselor. Ms. Thomas encouraged me to express my creativity and made me feel unique, which ignited in me a renewed interest in school.

However, my grade point average was so low that it was doubtful a four-year college would accept me. So, I began my first year out of high school at Bronx Community College.

Bronx Community College was a very urban school and what it lacked in attractive facilities, it made up for in dedicated teachers. BCC, like other community colleges across the nation, prepares students to continue their education at four-year universities or colleges or alternately teaches them a technical skill that offers them a lifetime of meaningful employment or entrepreneurial opportunities. I chose to follow the university track. I was able to take remedial classes that were immensely helpful to me.

During my tenure at BCC, my mother received a call from my old guidance counselor, Ms. Thomas, informing her that the University of Rochester was looking for young inner-city students to apply to the school. So I applied as a transfer student and – to my surprise – was accepted.

The University of Rochester was a wonderful experience, and the curriculum at BCC had properly prepared me for the tough regimen at the University of Rochester. I eventually graduated with honors, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Education.

Armed with my preparation at BCC and my degree from the University of Rochester, I was presented with the opportunity in 1985 by Herman Russell to run his Real Estate Development Operation at H.J. Russell & Company.

In 1991, I started Columbia Residential, a multi-family development and property management company, which today employs 272 individuals and has an annual payroll of $13 million. Additionally, between our real estate development activities and property management operation, we have an annual economic impact of more than $100 million.

If I summarized why this lost boy built a successful business, it boils down to my parents, Ms. Thomas, my mentor Herman Russell and the education provided to me at BCC and the University of Rochester. To paraphrase former Sen. Phil Gramm, I “lived at a time that a mother’s dreams were not easily deferred.”

However, the catalyst that changed my life was the opportunity to attend Bronx Community College, where they created an environment that “turned the light on,” and eventually led me to pursue a degree from the University of Rochester.

I support President Obama’s proposed initiative to provide greater financial support to students who attend the nation’s community colleges. Without my community college experience, I would have missed out on higher education and would have lacked the resources to start my own company. I would only suggest to President Obama that it should not be a completely free education, but that each student should have some “skin in the game.”

Perhaps a nominal $250 per semester fee would be more appropriate. Through subsidized community college education, America will have more well equipped young people, who will have the opportunity to gain a higher education and enter the workforce with a degree or skills and a passion for success.

In Atlanta alone, we have spectacular community college options, which employers like me would readily welcome its graduates into our workplace.

 

Reader Comments 0

24 comments
MiltonMan
MiltonMan

Wonder how much federal funding this clown gets to run his business.

Betsy Ross1776
Betsy Ross1776

Maureen Downey is giving a developer free advertising space on an education blog.
Corruption at the AJC.
Disgraceful and disgusting.

straker
straker

Astropig -  "you don't value it as much as something you have to strive to attain"


So. ALL parents should tell their high school graduate children "Work your way through college. We won't pay for it."

You'll value it more if you have to strive to attain it"?

Astropig
Astropig

@straker


I don't expect you to understand.People that get it, get it.



straker
straker

This story gives us an excellent reason for supporting Obama's college proposals.


And, you may rest assured it will have zero effect on the cons here and in Congress.


Giving tax breaks to their corporate sponsors is vastly more important to Republicans in Congress than improving education in America.


Being totally committed to Big Business and The Republican Party, people who could not possibly care less about them, is all that matters to cons here and elsewhere.

honested
honested

@straker 

Correct!

The 'rules' for conserrrrrrrrrrvatives has nothing whatsoever to do with improvement of life in the United States.

It has everything to do with a failed philosophy of encouraging everyone to sacrifice for those who need no sacrifice.

Cut taxes, allow those with the most to own more, don't question their authority.

A plan that works well for those with no unmet needs but works terribly for the rest of the Country.

Astropig
Astropig

@straker


This is not a "liberal" versus "conservative" issue. This is a human nature issue. If you are not charged for something, you don't value it as much as something you have to strive to attain.That holds true no matter who you choose to vote for.

honested
honested

@Astropig @straker 

So the hard work of succeeding in College is not sufficient for those lacking means.

They are required to endure additional hardship in order to be equally 'deserving' of those on daddy's nickel?

Please call me when yo make a salient point.

gactzn14
gactzn14

What Khalil's story also illustrates is how vital parental support is to a child's academic success.  A loving parent can make all the difference as they will advocate for resources that will help their child, while also holding their child accountable. Academic success does not happen in a vacuum, students must put some skin in the game if they desire a successful outcome.  He was allowed to FAIL before he found success.  Sometimes failure is a great motivator and teacher.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@gactzn14


Let us not forget that it was, also, an English teacher and counselor who "made (Khalil) feel unique" and who ignited in him a renewed desire to learn, as he stated in this paragraph from the article:


"I then reported to my neighborhood public high school, where I met Ms. Thomas, an English teacher and a guidance counselor. Ms. Thomas encouraged me to express my creativity and made me feel unique, which ignited in me a renewed interest in school."

GB101
GB101

"In this essay, Khalil explains why he supports President Obama’s proposal to make community college free."


Actually he doesn't do any such thing.  He barely mentions the president's proposal.  He does not explain any details of the proposal or provide any analysis.  

Cere
Cere

This is what I posted on another thread here on this topic:

A high school diploma does not go far in getting you the job you need to forge a life and family. Technical and community colleges train people for real careers - in all kinds of professions - professions we can use a lot more highly trained people in. 


It's true that this is already almost free in GA. First, there is the HOPE GRANT, which has a much lower GPA requirement than the HOPE Scholoarship. The HOPE GRANT pays pretty much all tuition for technical school. Students can sign up for a technical diploma and complete the requirements for free. Then layer on the necessary classes to turn that diploma into an Associates Degree for not too much more (and apply then for the HOPE Scholarship, if your GPA makes it!) No one can take that Associates Degree away from you ever! Later, turn that Associates Degree into a Bachelor's Degree if you so choose.


It's a very well kept secret, IMO. I have never heard a school counselor propose this kind of plan to a student, (I have heard Clark Howard talk about it though!) but in Georgia, it is very doable - and we have some really great tech schools.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Cere


Great suggestions in how to serve the individual, educational needs of some students, in a realistic and "doable" way, as you say, Cere.


Thank you for sharing this information and your suggestions of how many young people in Georgia might choose to advance their educational skills and knowledge in their own, unique ways.  Well said!  You well may have helped many of Georgia's young people from dropping out of high school and/or college with your thoughts.

Don't Tread
Don't Tread

"My West Indian mother was crushed and promptly kicked me in the posterior – literally."


I think we found the salient point in this story.  (They say there's a direct link between the nerve endings in the butt and the brain.)


The problem is that most baby mamas only care about that welfare check, and don't do this when needed.  Throwing taxpayer money at freebies is just a waste of taxpayer money.  Not that 0bama cares as this is just another way of "punishing enemies and rewarding friends" disguised as a feel-good program.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

"I chose to follow the university track. I was able to take remedial classes that were immensely helpful to me."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


As I have often asserted on this blog, based on my 35 years of teaching experience, grade levels 1 - 12 , and my training, M.Ed. as a certified Reading Specialist, students will learn the same content mastery at different rates. This will always be true because students will always be unique and varied. When we push students faster than their individual rates of learning concepts to mastery level allows, we, ourselves, create the educational problem of student failure.  Wise educators know this.


Noel Khalil's testimony gives credence to the value of community colleges, basically free to all earnest students, to continue their academic advancement to 14 years instead of only 12.  Knowing that there are remedial courses in a two year college in which certain students can keep climbing the curriculum continuum to full mastery but at a slower rate, can inspire many students to keep trying to learn (at a pace equivalent to their individual ability to absorb content) instead of simply dropping out of high school (and later possibly becoming incarcerated, as a result of few skills and no high school diploma).

TaxiSmith
TaxiSmith

So, we are going to take money away from people's college savings account and give it to someone else. I'll take a pass on that idea. Pure idiocy.

Astropig
Astropig

Mr. Khalil has an inspiring story,which confirms my often expressed belief that you can make it in America and do great things if you have the drive,the smarts and the ambition. He's living proof of that. He makes a great point about having "skin in the game",as I'm sure that his business experience has taught him leads to better outcomes than any other (artificially maintained) relationship. I'm sure he knows that if you tell someone that something is "free",that's the price they expect to pay the next time. (I have to wonder what Mr. Khalil would say if the president showed up at his office and told him "You didn't build that!")


One point that has characteristically not been covered here that should concern parents is another proposal by the president that would effectively cripple 529 savings plans that parents and grandparents use to save for college.His stupid,spiteful proposal would tax their withdrawal as ordinary income. This would be a great way to punish the middle class to try to hurt "the rich" in the name of "fairness". 529 plans are a net good because they allow parents to build up capital for rising college costs and reduce the amount students have to borrow.The president wants to punish "trust fund babies" by making college more expensive for working Americans. Typically for Obama, he's basically saying "Give me $60 billion in new taxes and I'll give you free community college".


I'm glad that most political pundits have reassured us that his proposals are going nowhere.

RichardKPE
RichardKPE

@Astropig There's an aspect of the 529 thing that's being ignored by the media:


Let's say I told you I have a special savings account you could invest in.  This account takes after tax money, and it taxes the earnings just like any other savings account.  In addition, if you don't use the money on an approved expense, you pay a 10% penalty.


The point is that taking away the tax benefit of the 529 plan means the entire plan becomes the worst savings method there is.  Noone would ever have one.

Astropig
Astropig

@RichardKPE @Astropig


It'll be interesting to see the Oompa-Loompas defend this one.A lot of them either have kids ready for school or get their paycheck from one.Let's see how "fair" they think this is to them.


(I will add that buying U.S. Savings Bonds and redeeming them for college expenses seems to have survived this round of "fairness". They'll still be tax free, and totally safe,but at current interest rates are a terrible investment.)

redweather
redweather

I, too, would like to see students have some skin in the game. If they are not required to foot some of the bill, at least until they've shown they are committed to getting a degree, the only thing this proposal is guaranteed to produce is more community college applicants.


Another issue is Pell.  That grant program is being abused every semester to the tune of billions of dollars.  That must be addressed.


Finally, who will be teaching all these new applicants?  If we are simply going to expand the ranks of seriously underpaid adjunct faculty, I am opposed to it.

EdUktr
EdUktr

One suspects that Obama's "free" community college idea is merely a gambit for dealing with the Republican Congress over the next two years—by talking up ridiculously expensive ideas no one has ever heard of before, and then denouncing Republicans for being naysayers. Sound familiar?

And how about the fact that so many recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed, making substandard wages in jobs that barely require a high school diploma?

The President and Democrats seem to be colluding with colleges to create a market bubble for an increasingly worthless product (except for the fat jobs that bubble will create for otherwise unemployable liberals).