Community College Month Staff Highlight: Darin Wissbaum

For many students, they can only afford college with the aid of loans, scholarships, and pell grants.

Community College of Aurora’s financial aid advisor, Darin Wissbaum, spends his fall visiting high schools in the area helping students make smart financial decisions while continuing their education.

Wissbaum tells students that community colleges are a great entryway into higher education, especially if you’re unsure of your career or if you’re still developing your professional goals. He says the smaller class sizes and access to professors gave him the educational foundation to succeed at the college level.

“I’m proud that I went to a two year school,” Wissbaum said. He attended Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville, Iowa and then continued to the University of Northern Iowa to complete his bachelor’s degree. “I found success with the two year school where I was more independent and wanted to be there.”

Compared to four year institutions, tuition at community colleges comes at a fraction of the price. For students who may fear they’re studying the wrong degree or realize they want to pursue another career, Wissbaum said community colleges are still an optimal avenue to advance your life.

He first worked toward  a criminal justice degree from Iowa Lakes Community College with the intent of working in prisons. Wissbaum quickly learned that the profession of prison guard was not for him. While at the University of Northern Iowa, he turned his focus to being a teacher. He ultimately decided to not become a teacher, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in general studies with a concentration in education, the humanities and the arts and sociology. 

Wissbaum’s background in education has allowed him to help students progress to the next level of their education. Working at CCA since 2016, Wissbaum said working in financial aid has allowed him to teach important life skills to students.

“I do consider myself an educator, even though I’m not in a classroom,” Wissbaum said. “We’re all educators, you know, we educate students about financial aid, about the importance of not borrowing too much money. We all have a role here as educators.”

When it comes to setting themselves up for financial success during and after college, Wissbaum encourages students to apply for state and institutional grants. Loans can help with living expenses and more. But students should keep in mind loans have to be paid back with interest.

“There’s nothing wrong with loans, if you need them,” Wissbaum said. “If you can’t pay out of pocket for a balance but don’t overspend or don’t over borrow because that will never go away until it’s paid off.”