Griselda Bautista, a Social Services major at Rowan College of South Jersey’s (RCSJ) Cumberland campus, possesses the traits of her favorite animal—a lion—when it comes to confronting her fears and keeping watch over her four-year-old son and her mother. Fearlessly, tirelessly and astutely she conquers life’s obstacles to create a better future for her family through education.
Like many non-traditional students who have taken a longer and oftentimes bumpier road to attain their college degrees, Bautista’s determination is paying off after discovering she met the requirements for the Community College Opportunity Grant (CCOG) and was eligible for free tuition. A single mother working full time as an aide in the Vineland Public School District, Bautista is grateful to be participating in the program.
“I never thought that I would be pursuing my dream of becoming a teacher,” said the Vineland resident after deciding in 2019 to enroll at RCSJ. “For me, just having this opportunity made me more motivated to finish what I want to finish, what I want to accomplish in life.”
CCOG, signed into law by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy in February, was established in 2019 to provide free tuition and educational fees to students previously unable to meet the challenging financial demands of attending community college. To be eligible for the grant, students must enroll in at least six credits per semester and have an annual household adjusted gross income of $65,000 or less.
“It’s been really, really helpful. There are no words to describe how much this has helped me,” Bautista revealed. “As a single mother, it’s been really beneficial. I have to think about rent. I have to think about feeding my child. Now, I don’t have to worry about how much I’m going to pay for my tuition. With this, it’s like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Tears fill her eyes when she talks about her son and the decision to go back to school: “I consider myself a high achiever, so I like to pursue big things in life. When I had my son, I still wanted to go back to school because I wanted to give him a better life, give myself a better life.”
A CCOG success story, Bautista will graduate from RCSJ in May with a 3.4 GPA. Her hard work, dedication and perseverance hasn’t gone unnoticed by members of the campus community.
“Griselda is a determined and conscientious student,” said Iris Torres, student development advisor for Las Vias, a Title V funded, student support program initiated to improve the Hispanic graduation rate. “She takes her education very seriously and always strives to do her best.”
Torres, who advised Bautista to apply for CCOG, marveled how she remained resolute even with the considerable challenges of being a single working mother. “Despite the many obstacles she has faced, she continues to persist and is determined to achieve her educational goals,” said Torres.
“RCSJ is a really good school,” said Bautista. “It’s really helpful with everything and anything. They understand you. They give you everything you need. It’s a really good school that provides you with a lot of tools.”
The future teacher speaks glowingly about her time at RCSJ and Cumberland’s faculty and staff (even though the pandemic has kept her from enjoying the full college experience). She also offers sound advice for future non-traditional students who may be leery about returning to school after an extended hiatus.
“It’s never too late for a person to pursue their dreams or go back to school,” Bautista said. “Going to college gives you the opportunity to have more doors open in your life. It also gives you the foundation and the knowledge you will need to pursue a successful career. Without a doubt, you will learn something new every day that gives you another perspective on life.”
Bautista understands the pitfalls of succumbing to fear. “When you have fear in your life, it doesn’t give you the opportunity to succeed … but you can conquer anything you want by having a positive attitude, that positive energy that you want to put into yourself. Just go out and enjoy.”
For more about the Community College Opportunity Grant program and eligibility requirements, visit RCSJ.edu/CCOG.