Caledon Johnston
Caledon Johnston

Like many students, Caledon Johnston’s journey through college has not been linear.  When he first started at Hennepin Technical College in Brooklyn Park three years ago, he thought he would transfer to a four year university and pursue a career in optometry. However, after issues with unclear advising and a lack of knowledge about the Minnesota transfer curriculum, Caledon decided to change pathways. He is currently a student at Minnesota State College Southeast in Winona, pursuing an Associate of Applied Science degree in biomedical equipment technology, which he will complete in 2024. He was recently elected to the LeadMN cabinet, and he will serve as treasurer for the 2022-2023 school year.

Caledon finished high school a semester early, and decided to work for a few months in order to save money before attending college. When he started at Hennepin Technical College the following fall semester, he had a desire to become an optometrist, and enrolled in many general health science courses. He was assigned an advisor who tried to help him the best they could to select courses that would be useful. However, despite telling his advisor that he intended to transfer after two years, they did not inform Caledon about the Minnesota transfer curriculum until the end of his second year when it was too late for him to complete the requirements.

At that point, he had learned that many of the courses he had taken would not transfer to a four year institution and he would have to stay another year if he wanted to complete his associate’s degree. If he would have known sooner about the Minnesota transfer curriculum, which allows students to complete an associate’s degree and transfer their credits to a four year university, he would have been able to save money and take all the necessary courses within his first two years. Unfortunately, this was not the case. He decided to switch paths and enroll at Minnesota State College Southeast in Winona to pursue his Associate of Applied Science degree in biomedical equipment technology. 

Caledon and Sylvester
Caledon traveled to Washington D.C. to advocate with LeadMN this spring.

It is not uncommon for students to struggle to navigate the transfer process. Many advisors are overworked and do not have the capacity to give each student the care and attention that they need to be successful. But this means students like Caledon slip through the cracks. It is students who are forced to pay the bill for the extra courses that end up not counting toward their degree, and students who are forced to prolong their educational journey or change paths entirely due to lack of clear advising. 

College affordability is an issue exacerbated by poor transfer advising. Restarting in a new program at Minnesota State College Southeast meant more money for tuition, equipment, books, and other living costs for Caledon. He relied on the emergency grant program to help him pay credit card debt accumulated from paying for rent and tuition costs, as he does not qualify for federal financial aid. Caledon works at a grocery store 20 hours per week for $12 per hour, but this does not scratch the surface of the tremendous costs associated with getting his degree. 

It is not uncommon for students to struggle to navigate the transfer process. Many advisors are overworked and do not have the capacity to give each student the care and attention that they need to be successful. But this means students like Caledon slip through the cracks. It is students who are forced to pay the bill for the extra courses that end up not counting toward their degree, and students who are forced to prolong their educational journey or change paths entirely due to lack of clear advising. 

College affordability is an issue exacerbated by poor transfer advising. Restarting in a new program at Minnesota State College Southeast meant more money for tuition, equipment, books, and other living costs for Caledon. He relied on the emergency grant program to help him pay credit card debt accumulated from paying for rent and tuition costs, as he does not qualify for federal financial aid. Caledon works at a grocery store 20 hours per week for $12 per hour, but this does not scratch the surface of the tremendous costs associated with getting his degree. 

“Emergency grants were a lifeline for me - when I received the grant, I was at the end of my rope.”

Caledon Johnston

Caledon intends to take his experiences with the transfer process and college affordability as he enters his new leadership role with LeadMN. He wants to advocate for improvements to the FAFSA process for students not financially supported by a parent or guardian, and continue to improve the transfer advising process for all Minnesota community and technical college students.