Oh God, I just bombed that test …PCC, here I come!
I think I’d rather die than go to GCC.
She’s going to community college? Seriously?
We’ve all heard these comments. We’re all guilty of making them. In an educated, affluent community like La Canada, the pressure to get into elite academic institutions can often feel overwhelming. Going to an Ivy or any school with a low acceptance rate is seen as the pinnacle of accomplishment in the life of an LCHS student. It’s no surprise that in many people’s eyes, community college (CC) poses a direct challenge to the idea of “success” that has become so ingrained in us. Over time, some have subconsciously begun to equate community college with academic, and often personal, failure. This stigma pervades discussions about college. It’s impossible to get through a week without someone convinced that their low test score is dooming them to a miserable life of junior college. It’s nobody in particular’s fault; in such a competitive (some would argue toxic) culture, this attitude towards paths perceived as “lesser” is simply a byproduct. It doesn’t mean we should accept it as the status quo.
I’m by no means blameless. I bought into the stigma for years. When I walked into a room of a GCC class- Armenian 101- over summer break, I was fully prepared to see what I perceived to be typical community college students. I expected the desks to be filled with slackers, drop-outs, people lacking in ambition. And yes, there were a couple of those people. But the class was also filled with USC and UCLA students earning credits. There were young single mothers hoping to go back to school and provide for their children. Elderly Armenian men and women who wanted to improve their formal writing skills sat beside me, not looking to simply earn units but coming with the pure desire to learn. Finally, there were many young, motivated students- just as good as any honors student at LCHS- who simply were not able or ready to attend a four-year college.
We need not only to examine the pervasive stigma behind attending community college, but why it is in fact a valid option for La Canada students. Let’s start by looking at the cost. Universities within the UC system cost an average of $35,000 per year; remember, these are public universities (private schools often top $70,000- over $10,000 more than the average American family income). Comparatively, annual fees at GCC (as an example) are under $2,000. Those who sneer at community college forget that not everyone can afford 5-digit price tags; some who can, simply do not want to pay such a massive sum just to get through general education requirements. When we look down upon those who take the community college route, we perpetuate a sense of elitism that has given LC students such a poor reputation among students in neighboring schools. As the daughter of an immigrant and community college graduate who came to America without much, I can recognize and appreciate the accessibility that CCs provide for those without the economic resources to afford a four-year school at first.
Some fear that attendance at a community college will hold them back in their academic careers. Good news: UCs have been admitting more CC students than ever before. According to an article published by the University of California, UC schools admitted “28,752 transfers from a pool of 41,282 students, including the largest-ever class from the California Community Colleges (26,700)…the admit rate for California Community College transfers [was] 76 percent.” There’s a clear advantage for CC graduates, and with good reason: community college prepares you for the academic rigor and intensity of a four-year university. CC students have proven to universities time and time again that they have the academic competence and motivation to succeed in a competitive environment. Community college effectively softens the transition between high school and college life, and it shows in the graduation rates. Based on recent data, freshman entering the UC system have a 62% rate of four-year graduation; transfers, on the other hand, have a significantly better 87%. This is not to say that transfer students are superior to those who begin as freshmen. The statistics merely indicate that transfers have a significant level of preparation that increases their chances of success upon entrance into a university. On both an academic and personal level, attending community college is clearly able to provide students with adequate preparation for higher education.
In spite of the community’s considerable stigma against it, community college is and remains a valid option for all students, regardless of their level of academic achievement in high school. Even if it’s not for you, we should stop perpetuating the negative stereotypes about students who choose to pursue that academic path. It only increases the stress and competition that has made our educational experience so anxiety-inducing. Besides, at the end of the day, four-year and transfer students can achieve the same end: a quality education.