Now Playing: Roll Um Easy, by Little Feat. “I am just a vagabond, a drifter on the run, the eloquent profanity, it rolls right off my tongue. And I have dined in palaces, drunk wine with kings and queens, But darlin’, oh darlin’, you’re the best thing I ever seen.”
Disclaimer: I love and respect the community-college system and believe it is a vital part of this state’s infrastructure. Despite everything you’re about to read …
After 18 months of being laid off, I decided earlier this month that maybe I need to change my job-seeking strategy. Writing and editing jobs don’t seem to be plentiful right now, and the superhero thing doesn’t pay very well – not to mention that lack of superpowers thing.
To make what’s destined to be a pretty long story a bit shorter, I’ll skip all the Hamlet-ian deliberations of being and not being. I decided I’d start pursuing becoming a paralegal – there’s writing and editing in there, and I’ve always been interested in the law and – believe it or not – enjoyed working with lawyers on two or three projects at the magazine.
Which pointed me to the community-college system. Which has been a huge debacle. Here’s why (and I swear every word of this is true):
First off, I thought, I’d get in touch with the person in charge of the program at my neighborhood school – South Piedmont Community College. There was a problem. She has been off at least the last month of June and was to be gone the whole month of July. Yep. She does, however, occasionally answer emails. Here’s what she told me when I wrote telling her I already had a bachelor’s degree and asking how to get started in the program (and I’m copying directly from her email): First, your must submit your application, get an official transcript sent in, (the transcript will let us know if you must take the College Placement Test (CPT),) take the CPT if necessary and then register after all the necessary paperwork has been completed.
Sounds pretty simple, right?
So I ordered my “official transcript” from the University of the People, where I graduated in 1979 (keep this in mind as we go). I wasn’t 100% sure at this point whether I’d attend SPCC or Central Piedmont Community College, which also offers a program. (I ultimately decided it would be dumb not to go to SPCC – one of its campuses is five minutes from my house.) So I had the transcript sent to my house.
In the meantime, I filled out the online application to SPCC. A couple of days later, I got an email from admissions. The admissions officer provided a checklist of what I would need. It was different from the info I’d gotten from the program head (now a week into her exile from the office). I’d need, according to the admissions officer, the following (again directly copying from the email – you’ll see why later):
- Have an official copy of your high school transcript (GED or Adult High School diploma is accepted) forwarded to Admissions.
- Submit official college transcripts from all colleges or universities previously attended.
- Submit SPCC Transfer Questionnaire to the last institution attended (ONLY for Transfer Students).
- Take the SPCC College Placement Test (unless you have met the necessary English and math requirements at an accredited college; contact Testing for more information).
- Apply early for Financial Aid, Veteran’s benefits or scholarships if interested.
- View our new student orientation before classes begin. You may find this online at www.spcc.edu (click Admissions, then Orientation).
- Meet with an academic advisor or counselor to select your classes.
High school transcript? WTF? I have a bachelor’s degree from the flagship of the UNC system, and I have to prove that I have a high-school diploma? I thought, “This must be wrong. I’ll just call and explain and straighten it all out.”
Except the admissions officer didn’t put her phone number in the email. That’s OK, I looked her up on the website and tried my luck. Except she was going to be gone at least a week, too. So I replied to the email and explained that I had a four-year college degree and said I figured that meant I didn’t need high-school transcripts, right?
Here’s how an underling at the department answered: If you are in a program, you are required to send your high school transcript. If you are a Special Credit student not applying to a program, we will not need your high school transcript.
That didn’t exactly answer my question. So I replied again and told her specifically what I wanted, repeated that I had a college degree – and the transcripts to prove it – and asked whether I needed the high school transcript. And why?
The underling again said I did. So did the program director, whom I also emailed – she didn’t address why she hadn’t said that initially.
And, oh yeah, here’s the reason I needed it: It is required of all students.
Well, my old high school, Halifax County Senior High in South Boston, Va., is now a middle school. I doubted the records were there. So I called the Board of Education there to request the transcript.
Only something was wrong with the Board of Education phone system that day. The call never connected. Despite multiple attempts.
So the following Monday, I called again. Got through to a very nice woman. Who told me she’d be happy to send the transcript. Only I had to fax the request in. Fax? Who uses faxes these days, I thought? I can’t email the request? No, she said. It has to be faxed.
Well, of course, I don’t have a fax machine at my house (and I don’t want one). So I went to the local UPS store and did it. They only charged me a buck, fo I felt pretty good about it.
I called a few days later, and sure enough the high-school transcript had arrived. However, the admissions underling said, they were still waiting on the college transcript. “No problem,” I said, “I have that here at home, and I’ll bring it by.”
She paused. “You have it in a sealed envelope, right?” “Well, no.” I’d opened to make sure that, after 32 years, they’d sent the right Arthur Murray’s transcripts. And to jog my memory on how I’d done in school. “It has to be in a sealed envelope for us to accept it,” she said.
I started Hulking up. I didn’t turn green, but I did start shouting and asked to be transferred to her supervisor, the admissions officer, whom I’ll call Stacie (not her real name), because she’ll continue to figure in this tale.
Stacie said it did indeed have to be sent in a sealed envelope, to ensure that it hadn’t been doctored with. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I shouted. “Why didn’t anybody say this?” “It says it on the website,” Stacie said. “Uh, no. It doesn’t,” I said, and challenged her to find it. “That’s what we have to have, anyway.” I started griping that I’d already gotten one and it had taken several days. Stacie, who I must say really was a kind person in the face of more than a little bullying on my part, misunderstood my concern. She said she’d try to call the office at Chapel Hill and see if they’d send a free copy. Not for the last time, I explained that I wasn’t concerned with the cost – only the time involved. But she kept repeating that she’d try that.
Only I don’t think she tried too hard. She called back late that afternoon and said she couldn’t find a phone number for UNC records, so she’d emailed them instead and hadn’t heard anything. She’d let me know if she could get that fee waived. I again explained that I wasn’t really worried about the cost, just the time.
Two days later, Stacie called again to say she still hadn’t heard back and I’d better order the transcripts again. So I did. In the meantime, she said, I could come in the following Monday and take the college placement test so I’d have that out of the way. “Wait a minute,” I said, “isn’t that why I’m getting this college transcript from 1979?” “You mean it’s more than 10 years old?” she said. “Well, yeah. I’ve been saying that from the beginning.” “Well, you’ll have to take the CPT anyway,” she said. “We’ll get the transcript and apply for a waiver to the 10-year rule and see if we can get your classes counted. Don’t worry.”
So, vowing I wouldn’t get upset no matter what, I went to get tested, picking the building that the sign that said “Testing” pointed to. Only it was the other building. The woman at the testing counter was great, she asked what I was there for and I told her the paralegal program – the one that was for people with college degrees (they also have one for people who don’t have them). She looked at me kinda funny but started setting up my test on the computer. She said, “You don’t need to take the math part for that, so I won’t include it.” “Are you sure?” “Oh, yes,” she said. “You don’t need it.”
So I took the test, about 75 questions or so, some of which asked me how much I studied for it – not at all – and how to cut and paste on a computer – remember, I’m not making any of this up.
I finished and went to the registration room to sign up for classes. One of the admissions folks called me in and started looking up my stuff. Turns out the college transcript had gotten there that day. So my application was complete, she said, adding that I’d done extremely well on the placement tests. Stacie was sitting there at the same table, and she introduced herself to me. She took me to the college registrar.
Only the registrar was on the phone. On a personal call. And stayed on after seeing me, and ultimately three or four other students waiting to speak with her. This went on for about 15 minutes.
Finally, she finished and asked me what I wanted. I handed her my paperwork, which included a form to have my transcript evaluated for classes that could be counted at SPCC. “Which classes did you want to be considered?” she asked. “All of them,” I said. “Or at least all the ones I’ll need for this program.” “Which program are you applying for,” she asked. “The paralegal program – the one for people who already have a college degree.” “What do you mean?” she said. “The program is the same whether you have a degree or not.” “That’s not what it says on your website,” I responded. (That’s still not what it says on the website, by the way.) I was starting to get upset.
Then it got worse. “What are the course numbers?” she said. “Is that a trick question,” I said. “I took these classes 30 years ago. How am I supposed to know the course numbers, especially when I had to send the transcript to you in a sealed envelope?” “If you don’t remember the numbers,” she said, “how do we know that you retained the knowledge?”
Now I’m furious. My gamma-ray infused blood is boiling, I’m likely turning green and getting ready to start smashing. I slammed my hand down on the desk and, in my best whiney John McEnroe voice, said, “You have got to be kidding me. You didn’t just say that!” She threatened to have me removed if I didn’t calm down. She then said she’d make me a copy of the transcript (I, of course, already had one, but I didn’t let her know that.) but that I’d need to get the course descriptions as they were written in the college catalog at the time they were offered. “And I’m pretty sure the psychology department won’t accept your Intro to Psychology class. You’ll have to take that again anyway.”
I’m still fuming but keeping my mouth shut and hands clenched at my side so I won’t be cuffed and escorted out – I was at least that sane. Then, she said, “Why didn’t you take the math placement test? You need that, too.”
She finally decided I didn’t, and we agreed that I’d go ahead and register for classes pending the appeal of taking the intro courses in English and psychology.
She sent me to a guy named Kevin, who would help me sign up for classes. And he was helpful, I’ll give him that. First off, he looked at my placement test and said, “Wow! We don’t see these kinds of scores. You did quite well.” I thanked him, and we got down to business. I’d have to take Introduction to Computers, he said. Isn’t there any way out of that, I asked. I’d been using computers for 30 years. He said I’d have to sign up and then I could test out at the first class. Fine, whatever (of course, that meant I’d still be charged for taking the course). We put together the rest of a schedule, determined the rest of what I’d have to take and he figured out what I’d owe and printed an invoice.
Which said I had to pay by the day before. (Keep in mind that registration is still going on and will be throughout next week, too.)
By that time, I’d had enough of SPCC. So I went home to figure out how to get the course descriptions from 30 years ago for appeal to have classes taken at UNC Chapel Hill accepted by a community college.
The following afternoon, Karen and I talked more about the program and decided that all the roadblocks – I’d basically Hulked up at every stage of the process – probably were a sign that it wasn’t meant to be. We’ll try something else, we decided. Five minutes later, I got an email from SPCC telling me my registration would be invalidated if I didn’t pay for classes by 7 a.m. the following day (keep in mind that’s less than 48 hours from the time I signed up – no buyer’s remorse allowed here). We laughed at it, again figuring it was a sign.
But the story’s not over yet.
At 7:57 the next morning, I got a notice that I had been purged – my registration at SPCC no longer existed. Less than an hour later, I got an email from Stacie. Here’s what it said: I am happy to inform you that your admission file is complete. You are now eligible to earn a degree, diploma, or certificate through the program.
So I was purged before I was admitted. I’m now a college dropout, I guess.
And I feel fine.
“Members of the graduating class, I have only one thing to say to you today … It’s a jungle out there. You gotta look out for number one. But don’t step in Number Two …”
_ Rodney Dangerfield (in the movie, Back to School)