PFP: The Stigma of Community Colleges

I didn’t want to go. I really didn’t. All of my friends were moving all over California to attend “real colleges,” and I, because I was paying my own way, was staying at home, basically friendless, to attend a community college before transferring elsewhere. When people asked what I was doing after graduation and I answered with this plan, the conversation tapered off and the responses were patronizing and condescending. The school I went to seemed disappointed when its students chose to remain in town and attend AHC. What did I do to deserve this humiliation?

Now that I’m well past my last year of undergraduate studies, I think the better question to ask is “Why is there such a stigma regarding community college?” Maybe this is just my experience in the town in which I was raised. (I would greatly appreciate hearing other people’s experiences regarding how community colleges are viewed in their particular circles!) But based off of my own experience, I’m left wondering why adults and peers alike try to discourage young people from attending community college because let me tell you, I have hefty student loan debt just like most graduate students, but it would certainly be substantially worse had I not attended community college for the general education courses. It’s made to seem like it’s not “real.”  The work load at community colleges is very real, especially when many students, including myself, are working full-time or almost full-time. Some even have families. It’s real. I got where I am today thanks, in part, to the education that I received there and the professors with whom I worked.

I really enjoyed my experience at a community college. I enjoyed the professors that I interacted with and the people I was able to meet. I enjoyed the classes that I took, particularly the small sizes within the higher level English courses. And I enjoyed saving money. I don’t regret my decision at all. It was refreshing to hear Dean DePauw praise community colleges, praise that I didn’t expect to hear coming from someone so prominent at Virginia Tech. I think this reinforces my belief that the student should be the primary concern of the university, not the prestige it gains by having high enrollment or the money it obtains by having these students. This also reinforces my belief that Virginia Tech does care about its students. For many people, community college is the only viable means to begin the journey in higher education. I think we as graduate students and potential future professoriate should work to change the stigma associated with community colleges.

What have your experiences with community college been? Similar to mine? Different from mine?

 

3 Comments

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3 Responses to PFP: The Stigma of Community Colleges

  1. I actually believe very strongly in community college, although I did not attend one, and I would like to teach at one someday. I think of community colleges as an equalizer: not only do they help typical middle-class students save money, but they also grant access to education to students who might not be able to go far away or spend a lot of money on college. I think community college teachers, if well-trained, could make a major difference in the lives and abilities of their students, which requires taking their role and the material seriously. As a side note, I wonder if maybe I would have had an easier time with some of my gen ed courses (geology, blech) if I had taken them at a slower pace or earlier on at the community college level. And yes, it would have been cheaper!

  2. NJB

    Iagree that there is a stigma surrounding community colleges. I only attended community college during the summer to knock out a few GEs, and went to a four-year university full time. The stigma exists in large part because people assume if you are smart, you go to a four year university. No one asks how anyone will pay for the university, and in the days of yore, this was less of an issue. As we see college tuition continue to skyrocket, we will see more people opt for community colleges out of necessity.

    I think community colleges are a great step for people who are unsure of what they want to do (and who really knows at age 17 what their future holds). My only anecdotal concern is that many people plan on spending two years at a community college, but things happen and they end up there for three of four years before they transfer.

  3. czandert

    I think it is quite admirable that you had to pay your own way through your education. That fact alone, which, I think, is perhaps common among many students who attend community colleges, is enough to belie the stigma of community colleges.

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