Community college isn’t beneath you

It’s sad to say the stigma surrounding local colleges actually prevents many people from seeing them as viable options.

Community college isn’t a “real college”, right?  It’s where old people attend. Full of lazy, non-driven students. It’s a last resort. It’s a back-up choice. It’s not “good enough”?

These institutions, though , can be just as rigorous and just as beneficial as any university or four year college. Whether it’s taking your general requirements or obtaining a full on bachelor’s degree, there’s no need to shame.

Belittling this form of public education is inherently classist. It’s outdated and harmful. It’s simply untrue.

While you avoid paying large figures a semester, you still get professors majorily possessing a masters or doctorates degree, as in the past decade community colleges began making these degrees requirements to employment. These local institutions also look to hire professionals who are already immersed in their degree-driven career, offering unparalleled real life experience. These instructors’ sole job is to teach, not conduct research. You’re being taught by someone who genuinely wants you to learn, instead of being shoved onto graduates or teaching assistants–a status-quo at larger universities.

My instructors have classroom populations in the thirties rather hundreds. They know me by my name. They have open office hours. They understand and take into consideration the complications arising with a diverse student population largely consisting of parents and employees. They care. Community college faculty doesn’t coddle the way highschool does, but they aren’t indifferent or detached. They don’t see thousands of faces a course, and they don’t have hundreds of emails to reply to at a time. It’s a good feeling knowing you can know your instructor personally. This one-on-one interaction is priceless both to me and my academic success, but I am certainly paying relatively less for it. 

This financial advantage shouldn’t be discounted, either, (ha). I’m currently enrolled in Running Start, a program I tested into that allows me to take college classes where the credits are applicable both to  my HS diploma and college degree. This program alleviates tuition, but I am responsible for all other costs. Class fees, textbooks, lab gear, and other expenses really do add up. Paying three figures a quarter is certainly cheap compared to what I’ll pay once I graduate out of this program, but it’s practically pennies when looking at the bills I’ll face when I transfer to a university. This is a marginal difference, with community colleges looking at costing $9,000 a year versus the $23,000 annual average at four year counterparts.  For the same classes! Similar curriculum! Especially when you’re taking your core classes, it just makes sense to avoid as much debt as you can. 

What’s more is that many community colleges offer DTAs, direct transfer agreements. This allows transferable credits to many major universities within your state and some even reward community college associate degree graduates with tuition waivers and other incentivizing scholarships. 

For people to say community college isn’t “good enough”, for folk to invalidate any kind of educational institution is very telling of their privilege. You’re lucky if college is an option, and you should be goddamned grateful if you’re able to actually attend. 

Secondary education isn’t a norm within my family.  Hell, I’m the first in my family to graduate high school. My mother dropped out her freshman year, and pregnancy soon followed. My father was working instead of being a sophomore then joined the military. My older brother was expelled due to drugs and is now in prison. 

Now, I’m already halfway done with my associate degree. While in high school! I’m over a year ahead than what I would have been, over a year closer to a career of helping others. I’ll transfer to a university of my own time, to hell with impressive names. I’m planning a future that my cousins and past friends were unable to envision. I have a reality that wouldn’t’ve been possible if it wasn’t for my dedicated parents. I am so lucky I have the future too many go without, and I’m not going to strain anyone’s means, including my own, because I want people to think “better” of me or it’s what’s “traditional”.

I see peers rushing towards applications, hustling bullshitted essays and lining up for scholarships to overpriced facilities. I look at friends who challenged themselves into programs that assure coordinators their paychecks, not students’ success. I’m surrounded by this perpetual stress drilled into us by our teachers who enforce the traditional idea that going straight into four-year universities is the “best” option. That it’s what you should aim for, anything less means you are not good enough. To view acceptance letters as the measurement of your success and big names as indications of your value.

We ignore the fact so many go without education to the point we have the audacity to demean and belittle institutions simply because they don’t fit our criteria for “enough”. It’s abhorrent to me. So what it’s a classroom instead of an auditorium? So what your instructor hasn’t published an “esteemed” book? An education is an education. It’s power, it’s security. Don’t try to stretch your wallet, or your parents’, simply because you’re “embarrassed”. We’re becoming adults now. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to enter this new stage in life on a foundation of massive debt and trivial reputation. 

Me? I’m going to become a nurse. My patients aren’t going to suffer simply because I didn’t take my basic clinicals at a “prestigious” university. I’m not going to not get hired due to the fact my english and history courses were taken at a local institution. I’m not going to force my parents to pay more for shallow creditably. 

Your future isn’t going to make it or break it simply because you took your pre-reqs at a two-year. You’re going to walk away with however much you chose to absorb, be it at UW or EVCC. You can’t learn motivation, you can’t pay for drive. We need to stop reinforcing this outdated and backless idea that community college equates half-assery. 

I know a 63 year old woman who is creating a new career. She works from four in the morning to two in the afternoon, sleeps for a few hours, then goes to my six o’clock anatomy class. She’s a patient in the hospital at least once a week, but she still studies. Still fills out her workbook and annotates her textbook.  She has grandkids she supports and medical bills to face. She also has tests she aces.

I also know a 44 year old veteran who was laid off and decided it was a sign to kickstart his second life. Who utilized his midlife crisis to go back to school.

There’s a 26 year old single mom who is a full time waitress at a steakhouse but enrolled in evening classes so she can support her five year old daughter better?

Tell me that the elderly woman is taking the easy way out, that she couldn’t make it into the real deal. Or is the disabled middle aged man taking a bad situation in his own hands really just lazy? Is the working single mom taking two night classes a week just undriven? 

Community college may not be for you, but it doesn’t give you the right to say it’s not okay for others. Get an education! Whatever degree, whichever institution.  Your knowledge is valid.

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