Updated: Oct 27, 2020
By Mehul Sharma
Image via Let’sGoDU.
I’m from the Silicon Valley, where perfection is expected and a 4.0 is assumed. Though, I was far from perfection. If anything, I was only perfect at being average, which led to a difficult choice in choosing a college at the end of my senior year. Was I destined to become a community college student? What would my high-school classmates think of me? Critiques and concerns sped through my head as I faced the judgment that felt as if it were the most important decision I’d make in my lifetime, but what I didn’t know, was that it would be the first of a chain that would determine the whole next year of my life.
I ended up deciding to attend a liberal arts college in Los Angeles, thinking no more of my option of community college until I arrived on campus and I slowly came to understand this was not the place I saw myself for the next four years of my life. As time went on, I gathered more reasons as to why transferring from this college was a great idea, but community college was still not an option in my mind. If anything, I thought it was the worst option. I played into the stereotype that if I attended a community college, it was somehow less valid than attending a traditional four-year university.
Image Credit: Laura Starechesk/NPR KQED.
The truth is, students attend community college for a variety of reasons, some being related to finances, family situations, or the more popular task of transferring to a four year university. Community college is significantly cheaper than a four year college, the latter being around ten times the price of a community college. So then why does society hate on community colleges when they are more affordable and ready students for their future careers?
Image Credit: Allie White/ Backstage.
The most common reason tends to be the perfect path we as a society have created. The “perfect path” entails doing great in school into high school and then going away to college at a four year university, which then after you will obtain a stable job. It’s what we have decided is the quickest, most effective way to happiness and success. So we discount other paths that people take, shaming them for their choices or putting them down simply because they chose a different route — community college. But did you know that according to Forbes Magazine in the article, “Erasing The Community College Stigma,” written by Nancy Lee Sánchez, “Community college students are also 75% more likely to graduate, once they transfer to a four-year institution.” Community college is an incredible choice for students who are unsure of their future, for students who want to save money, or students who did not get the chance to pursue an educational path they wanted to and now are figuring it out.
And it’s okay to be figuring it out. We as a society need to break the idea that you need to follow a certain path to be successful. One path may be more useful to someone rather than the traditional or nontraditional path, but that is for the person to figure out, not their family members or the pressure being applied by their friends and surrounding environment. I wish someone had told me that when I was a senior in high school.
So let’s start by dismantling the myths that are heavily connoted in the name of community college. Number one, community college is not easier than a traditional four year university. The truth is, education is education no matter what school you attend, and all that differs are the qualifications of the professors and the work ethic of each student. The more one takes advantage of community college and the opportunities it has, the more one will reap the benefits. There are honors classes, teacher’s assistant opportunities, student government organizations, jobs, and basically everything else that a four year university has. Many community college students obtain work experience while attending school, and become more career-focused, gaining a breadth of skills that make them stronger transfer applicants as well as applicants for career opportunities. According to an article published in Columbia University’s Community College Research Center, about 40% of all undergrads in the United States are currently enrolled in community college and more than 80% of them intend to earn at least a bachelor’s degree.
Number two, professors at community college are not less qualified compared to those at a four year university. The basis to become a professor is the same in most universities, so no matter what college you attend, your professor is going to have at least a Master’s degree. In a four year university, however, professors can be more research based, meaning they have come to the college to complete their research and their teacher’s assistant will teach the class. So technically, you could be paying thousands of dollars for a student to teach you something rather than the esteemed professor you expected. With community college, there are small classes where you can interact and have a personal relationship with the professor and you will be actually learning from a doctorate level individual.
Last but not least, there is a stereotype that community college students are burnouts or individuals who do not care about their future and make bad choices. In reality, there are students like that no matter what college you attend. The college experience you have at any college is the one you make, meaning you could not do anything or use the resources around you to the best of your abilities and become someone you want to be. Many students who attend community college did not do the best in high school and want to have a second chance to prove themselves, and if you put in the work, it works 100 percent of the time.
Now back to my story, where I contemplated my future sitting in my dorm room in Los Angeles when a fire erupted in the Santa Monica hills and my school caught on fire. At 2:30 in the morning I ran from my campus in the hills through Brentwood until I was evacuated and arrived home in the Bay Area. I returned to LA to attend the second campus my school had until I realized this was not something I saw myself continuing. I moved back home, registered for community college, and began the process to obtain two associates and transfer to a university I knew would be better for me. Now I am a lot happier and with the enduring pandemic, I pay ten times less for a great education from home while many around me are paying thousands for the same thing.
That being said, you don’t need to choose community college because your school burnt down and it freaked you out or because you don’t like the school you attend. There are a million possibilities and paths you can take, but community college is a good contender to keep in mind if you’re ever unsure.
Written by writer Mehul Sharma