"So you go to Community College, huh?" An Argument in Defense of Community College:
In exactly one week from today, I will be embarking on my first day of WOW orientation week for Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. And while I am well aware that Cal Poly is no Ivy League university (or even close for that matter), it is my personal Ivy League. And now that I stand here eagerly awaiting to experience, (and mostly likely be destroyed by) Cal Poly’s rigorous academic quarter system, I still cannot fathom that just two years ago I began attending community college with my Cal Poly transfer requirement printouts and carefully planned academic roadmap in hand.
And as genuinely thrilled as I am to be attending such an amazing university this fall, over the past few months my mind has been perplexingly reflective on the irreplaceable life and academic lessons that I have gathered through attending community college. So, whether you are interested or financially equipped to attend CC or not, my intention with this post is to spread a different and more positive light on the culture and opportunities at many community colleges. And I want to spread my positive light as radiantly as possible because as many of us know, community colleges have often been the product of one too many bad jokes, and as a result, they have somehow inquired an unfortunate reputation.
Sadly however, similarly to almost everything in life, the labels our society gives certain institutions, (while perhaps accurate in part), can veer towards societal bias and/or media distortion. Yeah I’m talking to you “Community." And so I strongly believe that we should aim to analyze different institutions from multiple perspectives in order to develop a non-biased and experienced based perspective before trying to label the effectiveness of an institution.
So today, in an effort to combat our societal tendency to label institutions without first looking at individual experience, I want to present my entirely personal perspective on community college by sharing 3 main life AND academic lessons that I have gathered over the past 2 years:
1.) Community college helped strip me of my unconscious sense of entitlement.
Sadly it is astonishingly easy to fall into a trap of believing that the environment, support and resources that you are provided with are normal for many peers in your direct vicinity. However, what happens when you are surrounded by groups of individuals whose “normal” contradicts everything that you are, (and have been) acquainted with? Well, I can try to tell you.
Throughout the short 2 years I spent attending CC I met countless students who were full time minimum wage workers struggling to pay their completely independent bills, single parents, and even financial caregivers at the age of 18. And met students who traveled over an hour on the bus to class, and then stayed up until 5am perfecting their term paper before getting up at the crack of dawn to take their child to school or clock in for their morning shift.
And what I found was that the previously mentioned routine that was personally foreign to me as a stereotypically privileged American, was perfectly normal for so many of my CC classmates—and I still stand utterly amazed by their grit and positivity.
So in retrospect, I am overwhelmed with gratitude that as a Caucasian, middle-upper class, suburban teen, my sense of entitlement was mercifully crushed after countless of encounters with many of the resilient students described earlier in this post whose "normal" contradicted everything I knew. Because beyond a completely theoretical understanding of the cultural, economical and racial divides in our country, prior to attending community college I never fully grasped the depth of such divisions in our communities. And I fear that like many suburban teens, I could have very easily gone straight from one homogenous high school community to another homogenous 4 year university without understanding how cultural, racial and economic divides not only exist, but also how these unfortunate barriers negatively impact so many individuals.
2.) Community college taught me how to be more independent.
I highly suspect that academic adjustments occur at almost most four year universities, but nevertheless, in my personal experience, community college students (more so than other university students), are forced to say adios once and for all to spoon feedings of high school and straight into intense individual meal planning.
...I probably confused you there, huh? Well, let me try to explain.
Due to the limited financial resources and overall culture at most community colleges, in my personal experience, students are harshly propelled even more so than other university students to learn how to independently plan and succeed—rather than relying on some other agent to guide, (or spoon provide them) the information or resources they need.
For example, though countless and often unfortunate trial and error processes at my CC, I taught myself about major pre-reqs, assessment appeal processes, transfer requirements, A.A. programs, the complex logistics behind adapting to a professor whose class average is a D, and even how to humble myself to enroll in on campus Statistics tutoring.
Fortunately however, these experiences taught me one of the most valuable lessons that I have yet to learn in my academic career: if I want to reach a goal, I will often have to independently research and diligently work for that goal without the guidance or reassurance of a direct institution or counselor. And I’m quite thankful for this lesson because the Lord knows I would still be waiting for a counseling appointment at my CC if I didn’t learn that lesson early on in my academic career.
My apologizes for that snarky comment CC counseling centers, but I had to throw at least a little shade to the CC community in this post—for credibility’s sake obviously.
3.) Community college allowed me to interact with who I believe to be some of the most willing and powerful professors in the higher education system.
After reading my last bullet point we can all agree that my experiences with some of my college professors have been anything but ideal, and instead often infuriating. And no, I am not just referring to my Western Civilization professor who found it absolutely delightful to assign hundreds of pages of primary medieval sources every night. But throw my pity party aside and I am equally positive that the occasional negative interactions I described are almost universal among any college campus-- I mean hello real world, am I right?
Nonetheless, I would like to believe that the overwhelming number of unique, authentic and inspiring relationships I formed with over half of my professors at community college may also be the product of the sensitive and supportive culture at an institution whose primary intention is to aid and prosper many students who our society has often classified as outliers.
Many of the professors I had at my community college taught at CC for a specific and tangible reason: to make a lasting difference in their students lives--and even at the expense of their personal career.
For example, the above reason was personally demonstrated to me when many of my community college professors (despite their credentials to do so), neglected to teach at a more elite or recognizable university, and instead chose to take the lesser job title in order to mold their CC students and prepare them to embark on their next goal.
Countless numbers of community college professors such as the ones I had, intentionally decide to toil with students who have diverse, (and often challenging) backgrounds or education levels. These professors willingly chose to sacrifice their free time and job title in order to work hand and hand with students such as myself, who desperately want to succeed in achieving their educational goals, but are often frozen in academic or personal bewilderment.
And so finally, to finish this finally bullet point, I want to proudly say that the professors I had during my two humble years at CC were not merely teachers, but quite frankly life coaches who graciously aimed to look past their students’ dirt and rough in order to polish their diamond underneath—And for that I, (along with most likely many other community college veterans), am eternally grateful for.