SMC grad comes out $30,000 ahead

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Rachel Breden won’t rest until realizing her refined girlhood dreams.

She came to Southwestern Michigan College as a home-schooler enrolled in an Early College Academy Program through Edwardsburg Public Schools.

Academy Programs let high school juniors and seniors sample occupations at SMC.

For college Breden saw herself attending Spring Arbor University, but weeks before, she balked.

“There was no way I could spend $28,000 a year on a private college. It wasn’t financially feasible,” Breden decided.  “I was totally fine coming here. I’d already been here and liked it. I liked the instructors. I knew it was a good school. I wanted to study broadcast journalism. I dreamed of going to New York to the big time.”

Even growing up in rural southeastern Cass County, “I’ve always been a news junkie. Anchors like Katie Couric and Matt Lauer seemed to have such influence on culture. I wanted to be a voice for goodness in the world. That was my ambition at 12.”

Breden, second of four daughters, finished high school in 2010.

“My sister, who has an early childhood degree, was in her second year when I started,” Breden said.

She broke in with The Southwester campus newspaper through a graphic design class contact.

After interning with the Marketing Department since January 2013, she joined the staff that August as marketing assistant.

She graduated summa cum laude in three years from Ferris State University with her bachelor’s degree in technical and professional communication, which exposed her to marketing.

“It’s kind of random because I did not intend to do this at all,” she said. “Until my final semester, I still intended to do journalism. Marketing just happened. I love it.”

This fall Breden starts the next two-year leg of her journey, a Western Michigan University communication master’s degree.

She plans to move to Kalamazoo and buy a two-bedroom condominium, renting part.

“I want to study persuasion and social influence in popular culture, an area I’ve always wanted to explore. We’ll see what happens. One thing I’ve learned is life doesn’t turn out how you plan. As you follow a path, other things happen that steer where you go.”

Breden will be a WMU teaching assistant, which fits with an interest in community college teaching she cultivated at SMC.

She applied to Western, the University of Michigan-Flint and the University of South Florida in Tampa. All three accepted her.

“I always talked to my instructors. I was never one of those students who came to class and left. I’m hoping the TA position will help me figure out if I want to teach or not,” Breden said. “I’ll help one of their lecture classes Monday/Wednesday/Friday, then work here Tuesdays and Thursdays and go to class at night. I’m taking two first semester.

“With the TA position, they’re basically paying me to get my degree. I was blown away. I did not think that would ever happen. My Pell Grant covered most the tuition for the first year of my undergrad, so I wasn’t paying much out of pocket. I worked the whole time, so first semester I saved money for second semester. I didn’t have any debt when I got my associate degree. For my bachelor’s degree, I got a $300 scholarship and managed the cost by taking as many SMC classes versus Ferris classes as I could. Ferris has a payment plan, too, where you pay half up front, 25 percent halfway through and the rest toward the end. I borrowed $3,000 from my parents and repaid it by the end of the year.

“The average student graduates with $30,000 in debt,” Breden said. “That means I got a $30,000 jump start on my peers by going to SMC. And that gap will continue to grow since I get to save money while they pay off loans for the next 30 years.

“There is absolutely no reason to go that much in debt to get your degree. There are ways to make college affordable. You just have to figure out a plan that works for you. For instance, just because you’re short $10,000 for the semester, you don’t have to rush out and get a $10,000 loan. Most colleges have payment plans, so as long as you have a job, you can pay the bill as you go. Or, you can adjust your course load to take only as many courses as you can afford. And look for ways to reduce your expenses, like sharing an apartment with a friend.”

She worked at Starz Academy child care and did odd jobs for relatives’ landscape company.

She freelances for Leader Publications’ newspapers and Michiana Life magazine.

“I stay open to whatever God throws in my lap,” she said. “I’d like to try teaching, maybe get my Ph.D., maybe stay in marketing and advance my career, but if I get a chance to get married and be a stay-at-home mom, I’m taking it. I’m a huge advocate for SMC. I can see myself working here the rest of my life” unless marketing tugs her into politics.

“I never do anything halfheartedly,” Breden said. “If I do something, I go for it. I have a hard time describing my job duties because it’s a little bit of everything,” from updating and building content for the web site to proofreading, editing and writing and designing internal newsletters, including the Toilet Paper.

The independent former home schooler teaches herself with Google tutorials whenever she gets stuck.

“I never say no to anything because I love learning new skills. It’s good for the future to say, ‘Yeah, I can do that.’ Everybody expects that with job applications. They want you to know journalism, marketing and HTML coding.”

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