Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Ask Isa: The truth about community college stereotypes [spoiler alert: they're wrong]

I've received so many questions that allude to stereotypes about community colleges and wanted to address them here for anyone thinking about going to community college for an associates degree, a career program or to transfer on to eventually earn a bachelors degree. Hope it helps! :)

I feel like some people act like there is something wrong with community colleges, that they're for "dumb" people. Is that true?

There is NOTHING wrong with community colleges. But you are right the stereotype is there. It's just wrong. 

Community colleges started to open access to college for all people, especially those who may have been shut out in the past (e.g. low-income people, minorities, veterans, etc.).

Our culture is obsessed with status, and thus community colleges are seen as "less than" because you don't have to apply to "get in." That's why the tagline to my blog is "Because going to community college doesn't mean you couldn't get in anywhere else."

Community colleges are brimming with bright students, and many community college alumni go on to do amazing things

Community college courses are not for "dumb" people. (And really, I don't think there are "dumb" people. I think there are just people who haven't had the opportunity to see what they're capable of.) 

Many university students take summer classes at community colleges that transfer back to their universities! I've known many community college students who've gone on to the Ivy League, even Harvard. 

A reason you may sense a negative reaction to community colleges is that their graduation rates do tend to be low. 

But the reasons students drop out (keep in mind community colleges serve a large proportion of low-income and first generation students) seem to have much more to do with them not having enough money or schedule flexibility - not because they aren't smart or because the institution doesn't provide resources for success. 

The biggest difference is that in college, especially a large inexpensive community college, it is now up to you to seek out those resources on a daily basis (that's what my book is all about!).

In short: community college is a wonderful place to start and there is nothing wrong it.

Anyone who attends should be so proud. To me, community colleges are the
American Dream.

Can I really be successful with an associates degree? What if I just want to do a two-year program and don't want to transfer to a university? 

I see nothing wrong with getting an associates degree! You can check out some basic statistics on earnings here, and I encourage you to search the internet for additional reputable sources to find out more. 

Two of my other favorite places to research careers when it comes to degree requirements and earnings potential are the U.S. Dept of Labor's Occupational Handbook and

I think you are so smart for asking these questions now and doing the research early will serve you well. 

If you've done the research and you find out your ultimate dream career does not require a bachelor's degree then you are good to go! 

The best way to know is to ask advice of someone who is in that career and ask them what degree they got and what degree they think will help you best get the entry level job you want as well as create a sustainable career to allow you to move up to where you ultimately think you want to go in your future.

Also keep in mind it's never too late to get a bachelors or other advanced degree if you decide later. I've known many who've gone back in their 40's and 50's and done very well, though they do say getting it done earlier (before kids and mortgages) is preferable when possible. That's why it's so smart you're doing the research now.

Can I really be successful if I only go to community college and don't get a bachelor's degree?

Yes I truly believe that you can. I think success relies more on the effort you put forth, the self-learning you do, and the attitude you have much more than the type of college you attend. 

Statistics show that generally advanced degrees do equal higher earnings, so some form of post-secondary education is a great way to get a successful path started. And of course - it also depends how you define success! The amount of money you can make may not always be what drives you. 

I fully believe education is the best investment you can make. You are a good investment - but only when you are doing the research to make sure you're investing in something you really want to do and are able to bring your 100% to the process. 

And finally, as I'm sure you know, a degree alone isn't enough to equal automatic success. 

It takes so much more, but if you are asking these types of questions and doing the research then you are already on that path.

Keep doing the research, find out what you really want to do, set goals, plan your journey, seek mentors, adjust when necessary, and put in your 100% every single day. 

If you do that, you can absolutely be successful. Community college is a great place to start, and I think career programs (e.g. culinary, nursing, law enforcement, EMT, automotive, dental hygienist, welding, etc.) are some of the things that make community colleges so special, in addition to the opportunity to transfer.

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