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Second-rate: The community college myth

By   /   August 29, 2013  /   Comments Off

cover photo

Photo by Denton Dooley

Story by Caroline Koch


Socially dismissed and branded academically mediocre, many community college students walk the halls this week with their heads down and spirits low. It’s time to change that.

You’ve been told you are missing out.

You’re stuck at home commuting to a school every day. No co-ed dormitories, no waking up motivated to head off to class like everyone else in the building. No Greek life, no crazy college parties like you had imagined; no ‘kegs and eggs’ morning tailgates for the big game. No motivation to wake up in the morning and continue going to what some days feels like high school all over again.

You watched some of your best friends go off to four-year state schools for the “real college experience” and you are stuck here, at community college.

You’ve been told you messed up, or maybe you feel forced into coming here; maybe it was your only option, yet you still feel convinced the bad outweighs the good.

Sounds like your scale is broken.

Really, what’s so bad about not having to wear flip-flops to shower? What’s wrong with community college?

What is wrong is the unjustifiably bleak outlook society has placed on the community college student; an ultimate weirdness that plagues incoming freshman and returning students alike, duping some into thinking they are not good enough.

You know what’s ridiculous?

That statement.

The notion that you chose (or maybe were dragged, kicking and screaming) some second-rate education at an institution that be brushed-off to the side, is Chris Bridges ludicrous. Let’s first debunk the myth that community college professors are some sub-par animal. Programs and certificates at community colleges get to be narrow-cast to a plethora of special skills, continuing education and ongoing technology development, an exclusivity not always afforded at universities. Opportunity and resources are endless thanks to the professors and faculty that are invested in getting students interested in school. For most incoming freshman, the first semester sets the tone for the rest of their educational careers. However, while community college professors aid in guiding the initial college experience, they also take on the task of having a vast array of ages and interests in their classrooms. And for those who think junior college students are not as successful as four-year institution goers, here are two words for you: George Lucas.

The most obvious answer ready for those questioning a choice in a junior college is the monetary difference between a two-year public school and a four-year university. Community college is the least expensive option when it comes to higher education tuition fees. The average savings for a full-time student at a public two-year college versus a public four-year, in-state school is about $5,000 (CollegeBoard Advocacy & Policy Center, 2001).

However, according to a study done by Sallie Mae in 2011, 22 percent of all college students from household incomes over $100,000 attended community college that year; a 16 percent jump from 2010.

So why the near tripling of the dreaded community college attendees from more affluent families?


The current social status quo that aims to hide community colleges’ light under a proverbial bushel is as dated as the metaphor. Predetermined peculiarities burdening students are dissolving with the realization that the ugliness shrouding its reputation comes from an old school of thought. Today, community college is much more widely recognized as a convenient and conducive means to a four-year degree.

The scope of “the freshman class” has broadened exceedingly with the help of rising accessibility. Sure, once upon a time college was for the well-off and academically upstanding, but the 2013 post-secondary school generation encompasses more than the ‘good ol’ boys.’

Have you ever been embarrassed to tell an adult you were attending community college in the fall? Likely because an adult planted that seed in your head, due to a seed planted in their own mind years ago, and so the garden grows.

Since its foundation in 1901, the community college saw exponential growth when the GI Bill was passed after World War II. The legislation financially aided those returning from war in an effort to create job options for veterans, however, the bill ended up setting the precedent for college financial aid from that point forward. Community colleges were breaking boundaries of who was ‘supposed’ to have access to a college degree, and made higher education possible for many convinced it never would be.

After the thriving economy of the 1950s, and the baby boomer generation pushing enrollment numbers higher and higher, 497 community colleges were opened in just ten years; more than the number of like institutions in existence from 1901-1960 (American Association of Community Colleges, 2001).

Over one hundred years later, community college enrollment accounts for about 40 percent of America’s undergraduates (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002), a statistic that solidifies a change in attitude toward the public two-year institution. No doubt, the current ‘digital age’ sees community college as a valuable resource.

The American Association of Community Colleges reports in a study that “students who start at a community college are just as likely to earn a bachelor’s degree after transferring to a four-year college as are students who start at a four-year institution.” If this is in-fact, the case, why the stigma? Why the need to qualify your choice in community college?

The need for validation is just a perception; a tired, old perception that needs an adjustment for the 21st century.

Even after climbing out of one of the most economically disastrous times in a decade, a college education remains at the top of American priorities; especially for students like you. If you think you’re missing out on beer pong tournaments that last into the wee-hours of the morning, become more involved in your experience here. Go to study groups; join a club; talk to the people sitting around you in class, they too might be feeling the exact same way. Any college experience is what you make it; effort made far surpasses what any location could.

Whether your time here is to earn a certificate; for continuing education; to return to school or as an access point to a university, know that your time here could never be considered insignificant. You have all the tools and now, the knowledge to know better than somebody who has told you otherwise. Don’t sell yourself on an old stigma that no longer has any relevance.

Embrace it.

Defend it.

You are going to college – a damn good one – and that is more than admirable, it’s remarkable.

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  • Published: 11 months ago on August 29, 2013
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  • Last Modified: August 29, 2013 @ 11:14 pm
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