Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Five reasons community college is more than a "back up plan"

Community colleges have a bad rep as a "back up plan", the place you go when you can’t get into college anywhere else.

While many community college students will admit it wasn’t their first choice (even I “ended up” in community college after I realized I couldn’t put my debt-ridden lower-middle-class family in a hundred thousand dollars of more debt for my education), it doesn’t mean it isn’t a good choice.

For me, it was a choice that changed my life and made it possible for me to go all the way to graduate school, debt free. It was a choice that opened my eyes to the socio-economic disparities in our country; and it was a choice that allowed me to thrive in a way I could have never imagined, a way that wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t attended community college.

Some people think community colleges are somehow "less-than" academically because "anyone" can get in. But community colleges don’t just let “anyone” in – they let everyone in. And that is what makes them such an important part of the American Dream.

While there is still much to be done to improve community college graduation rates, community colleges are still helping an important group of students graduate each semester, many of whom would never have had a chance at an education otherwise. 

And those students who are graduating are doing so with more advantages than some may realize.

Below are five reasons students who choose (or even “end up”) in community college can rest assured that they have made a great choice.

1. Reduced or no debt: College is becoming incredibly expensive, but community college prices remain incredibly reasonable. That might mean they don't have a state-of-the-art gym or cafeteria, but in the end, do you really need that to learn?

2. Transfer scholarships: There are incredible full-tuition scholarships out there that are only for community college students, such as the Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship and many others offered by Phi Theta Kappa. These kinds of scholarships cover tuition at many top universities when students transfer with an A.A. degree. Many community college transfer scholars have gone on to Ivy Leagues with these scholarships.

3. Small classes: Most community colleges have small classes; I've never been in a classroom with more than 30 students in my life. While I don't have experience with the 200+ classroom auditoriums, I have heard it is easy to feel invisible. Small classes allow you to better connect with your classmates and professor.

4. Professors have more time to teach: While I am so thankful for the incredible research university professors are doing around the country, what I loved most about community college professors is that, since research is not a priority at most two-year schools, they had a lot of extra time to help me individually. The one-on-one attention I received at my community college made me a better writer, a better thinker, and the kind of student who could win the $110,000 Jack Kent Cooke scholarship. I couldn’t have done it alone.

5. Leadership opportunities: At many universities it can be difficult to become a president of a club your freshman year, because you are competing with students who are older. But at community college, you can easily become president of a club your freshman or sophomore year. You also have the opportunity to get involved in the stellar honor society only for two-year college students - Phi Theta Kappa.

So whether you're enjoying your community college experience now, unsure of how to make the most of it, or feeling unsure about whether community college is right for you, rest assured that community college is a wonderful option, rich with benefits.

Community college is more than a back up plan. Thinking of it in that way can only harm the students who are attending, by making them feel like they are "less-than." In the end, where you go to college matters very little when compared with how much effort you put into it.

As I say on the headline of my blog: Community College Success: Because going to community college doesn't mean you couldn't get in anywhere else.

Join me in sharing what community college means to you on Twitter using the hash tag #CCPride. 

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