When I first made the choice to attend North Seattle College, I was excited and eager to begin my college experience. It never occurred to me that I would encounter judgement because I was starting off at a community college. While everyone in high school announced their college decisions, I could pick up on subtle looks of disapproval from students going off to universities. I would also occasionally hear the question: “Why would you go to community college?” Many people could not grasp why a straight A student like me would choose this path. Soon enough, my enthusiasm to start this new chapter turned to doubt and uncertainty. Although I had been accepted to every university I applied to, I felt that the lower tuition cost at North was a smarter choice financially, and that smaller class sizes would better suit my learning style. This is why I made the decision to get an AA degree, and then transfer to a university later on to complete my English major.
Most people tend to look down on community college students, compared to those who traditionally attend a university after high school. There are a lot of universal stereotypes about students like us due to the majority of people having a one dimensional perspective and a lack of knowledge on the subject. These stereotypes include that employers favor applicants who attended a university, that community college students are only older students returning after a long period of time, that they are not intelligent enough to be accepted into a university, and that the lack of student life prevents students from being involved in their campus community (Chen 2018).
People tend to assume that employers are less likely to hire an applicant that has attended community college. However, employers are mainly looking to see if one earned a degree and has the required experience for the career they are pursuing. An applicant that has attended a university for all four years is no more qualified than one that has attended for two years, or has a professional certificate.
Although there may be a large number of older students at some community colleges, it is a misconception that this is the only type of student present. Older students who are local may have been the typical student years ago. However, there are currently many young students as well, such as those who are a part of the Running Start program and come from other countries, creating a mix of different identities. For example, North Seattle College had 435 Running Start students and 517 international students enrolled in Fall 2017.
In addition, one’s intelligence or skill level should not be determined solely on their decision to attend a community college, because these students have the same work ethic and desire to succeed as those who attend universities right away. In fact, a few of the successful people who attended community colleges include the founder of Disneyland Walt Disney (Metropolitan Junior College), CEO of Apple Inc. Steve Jobs (De Anza College), and Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks (Chabot Community College). According to the statistics from the UNLV Institutional Analysis and Planning, “community college students tend to earn a higher GPA than students who begin their academic careers at a four-year university” (Chen 2018). This reveals that community college students are perfectly capable of having academic success.
Lastly, even though community colleges do not have the Greek system to join sororities and fraternities, there are other ways in which students can meet new people and gain valuable experiences including volunteering, clubs, and programs such as student leadership. Then, they can still be a member of the Greek system after transferring to a university, if this is personally an important part of the college experience.
There are many advantages of community college that are not acknowledged often. These factors lead students to choose community college over a university because they better suit certain needs and enrich the overall college experience:
- Lower tuition cost: The most prominent reason for attending community college is the lower expenses. Community colleges have an average cost of $4,000 annually, compared to about $30,000 – $100,000 for public universities. Living at home and paying less for tuition saves a drastic amount of money even when a student transfers to a university for two of the four years, because it reduces the amount of student loans and debt that students face.
- Flexible schedule: Community colleges offer a lot more online and evening classes than universities, which makes college convenient for working students who have other responsibilities. This allows them to learn more efficiently by fitting their course load into their own busy schedules.
- Smaller classes: Classes have about 20 – 30 students compared to lecture halls with hundreds of students in universities, which allows each student to receive more attention and assistance from their professors. This also allows the professors to learn about the needs of each student and be more aware of their specific learning styles (Mitchell 2015).
- Professional certificates: Community colleges offer short-term and professional certificates. This is useful for those who are pursuing a future in fields such as technology and electronics and do not require a four-year degree for their desired career, allowing them to obtain a job sooner.
- Transfer agreements: For most students, enrolling in a community college means that they are planning to transfer to a university. Almost all community colleges have transfer articulation agreements that guide students in what courses need to be completed for transferring to a specific university. By having universities in mind early on, meeting with advisors, and paying attention to the requirements, the process of transferring is not as difficult as one may think.
The benefits listed above demonstrate the many positives of attending a community college for a duration of one’s higher education experience. Instead of making quick assumptions about community college students and their abilities, people must look more closely at the rewards that come from it. Being a community college student does not make someone less than a traditional student in any way. This simply means that they are taking on a different approach that is more appropriate for their unique goals. By doing the right research and learning about the benefits, one may find that starting at a community college is ultimately a better choice in terms of the atmosphere, financial ease, and heightened attention.
Now that I have almost completed my AA degree, I have no feelings of doubt or regret at all. I am thankful for every educational experience I gained at North, the good and the challenging. These two years have allowed me to learn academic and personal skills that I will take with me to university and beyond, to use for the rest of my life.
Student Cabinet Coordinator