by Isaiah McNair-Wilson
I admit I used to laugh at community college students. I was an over-achieving, slightly snobbish university bound want-to-be future leaders of tomorrow and always viewed junior college as an inferior form of education. I believed that spending thousands of dollars at a university when you could get it for the cost of an Xbox 360 was a symbol of higher intelligence. Now being a Chaffey Community College student, I’ve grown up slightly and I’ve seen how wrong my misconceptions are. Besides the great professors, friendly students, and helpful programs that I’ve seen first-hand at my college, I’ve also seen a lot of the benefits it can carry all students with post-secondary education goals. The stigma of community college is that it is for those who couldn’t make the cut a four-year college, so it’s a “loser” college. Due to economic hardships, however, university bound students are also enrolled to community schools like mine to save cash, a more economically wise choice.
I’m not going to pretend like I was thrilled to go to Chaffey College because I really wasn’t. I had applied to Cal State Long Beach and San Diego State, I wsn’t accepted at Long Beach and my application payment for San Diego State did not get sent, so I didn’t even have the pleasure of knowing if I would’ve got in or not. I was told I should have applied to more schools and that I would have had a good chance of getting accepted. I thought of my friends, who were applying to five to ten colleges (which can add up to $200 to $500 dollars without a waiver) all of them hoping desperately to get into one of them.
The strange thing was they were not exactly enthusiastic about the majority of the colleges they were applying to. I didn’t understand why someone would pay sixty dollars for each application for the chance to get into a school they didn’t feel enthusiastic about and then pay thousands to stay there.
I took a good look at my peers and compared the students and their view on college. The average students were more laidback about college and a lot wanted to take a break from school to find work or travel. The eternally stressed out “AP Kids” (the over-achiever students who were in Advanced Placement classes, who actually studied for the SATs, and joined several clubs just for the sake of looking good for colleges) felt that their overall success in life was based on what college accepted them. I’m not saying anything is wrong with wanting to go to a university your freshman year, I hear it’s awesome, but a lot of my friends were so stressed about not just getting into their dream university, but about getting into one at all.
At my graduation, I noticed when the valedictorian, salutorian, the ASB secretary, and vice president did their speeches, they mentioned their colleges (all of them were UCs). The only one who didn’t mention his college during his graduation speech was our class president, who planned on going to Chaffey. My friend, who was also going to Chaffey, laughed at him, who was also going to Chaffey and I asked what he thought was so funny. My friend replied “Well, he’s supposed to be all smart and he’s going to Chaffey.” I was upset that the class president was embarrassed to mention Chaffey because of how people refer to it as “high school with ashtrays”. A lot of students from my high school go here and I think it would have been great it he, someone who represented our class, mentioned it. It’s an accomplishment in itself to choose to continue an education regardless of where it is and while it’s funny to poke fun at junior colleges, it shouldn’t be to the point where students are insecure about it.
I finally realized how ridiculous it is that someone’s intelligence or success is determined by what college they get into. And I realized how ridiculous I was being to even be upset I didn’t get accepted. I knew I was smart and I knew I accomplished a lot, I didn’t need an acceptance letter to validate it. Yes, I did want to leave the nest and go off to a college, but those colleges I applied to were not even my “absolute dream colleges” so why should I worry? I decided going to Chaffey Community College was a much better choice and I spent my summer enthusiastic about school.
However, I didn’t let the high of a new campus experience keep me from my plans. The two-year colleges are fun and all, but keep in mind it’s called “two year” for a reason. So I made an academic plan before my first day, talked to the Transfer Center, and joined the Honors Program at my school. After talking to several students, and former high school classmates, I realized that just because you go to a community college doesn’t necessarily mean you are happy about it. While a lot of students here are ambitious and prepared, a lot of students I talked to lacked, ambition and confidence to even succeed or even knew how to even transfer. So I decided to be a spokesperson, an advocate if you will, for community college.
I woke up early to get to school to volunteer for Chaffey’s first Transfer Fair of the year, an event where different universities from all over California and other states come to our campus to help recruit students and encourage them to get on track to transfer. My job was to hand out fliers to students. I grabbed some fliers, hopped on my rusty trusty scooter, and rode around campus handing out fliers to whoever came. People were surprisingly friendly for the morning because they asked questions and I answered the ones I could. And when the fliers ran out, I danced with a sign and gave passing students information. Hopefully I didn’t make a fool out of myself for nothing.
Recruitment such as this is beneficial for everyone. Students get recruited to universities to pursue their majors and it helps universities gain more racial and socioeconomic diversity, which a lot of universities strive for due to the “rich, white” stigma associated with a lot of schools. Calvin Bonds, whose job is to outreach to student about Bellevue College admired the fact that there are a lot more “people of color” at the community college he travels to, compared to his school. Chaffey’s Transfer Fair, as well as other programs and events at the campus, are building relationships between two-year and four-year institutions. October 26th a group of us from Chaffey who are interested in journalism went to the University of Southern California Annenberg as part of the Community College Journalism Day. This sweemed to make transferring part of the college culture in a similar way going to college is part of high school culture.
This is especially beneficial to my awkward beloved “AP Kid” bretheren such as Pagaluck Onsiri, who graduated from Etiwanda high school this year with a 4.5 grade point average (yes, on a 4.0 scale) and was accepted to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. “I decided to go here for financial reasons on the day of graduation,” Pagaluck told me, “I like it here, the campus is nice, and the teachers are helpful.” Her godlike g.p.a. comes from the Advanced Placement classes she took at her high school, which got her 24 units worth of college credit. With this edge, she hopes to be junior level by the end of her freshmen year at Chaffey, so she can transfer to UCLA, her dream school, to major in Microbiology. Third year student Kunal Singh turned down acceptances from Arizona and Washington State to come to Chaffey. He mentioned how much cheaper it was, plus benefits of staying home with the folks for a few more years. “Living with parents is cool,” he joked, “you get free food, free gas, and a place to sleep.”
Of course, young adults aren’t the only ones stepping on to community college campuses and it’s ridiculous to say community college is just a stepping stone for young adults to get into universities. The U.S. Department of Education report shows a quarter of college students are over thirty. While some are probably adults who won’t let the dorm party-life go, the majority of those adults are attending classes at community colleges to earn a degree or certificate, which will give them an edge in a competitive job market in a needless-to-say terrible economy.
Chaffey student and mother of four Denise Reynolds mentioned, “It was strange,” when she stepped onto a college campus for the first time a semester ago, “I thought it’d be a bunch of kids, but it’s just as many people my age.” She is a pharmacy technician, as well as a coach operator, who hopes to get an AA in Pharmacy so she carries more weight in a competitive job market. It is more than just teenagers roaming my campus. A lot of guys my age are afraid to flirt with a girl in one class because there’s a good chance her dad might be in the same class. Junior colleges are geared to help people of all ages with an array of problems, whether it’s to help young adults trying to save money before heading to the dorms or to help their parents earn degrees to find jobs so they can pay for the dorms.
The benefits of community college have even reached the White House, as President Obama proposed a goal, known as the American Graduation Initiative, which is a plan for America to once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. This is also a means of staying competitive in the global market. A skill gap has been debated to be one of the factors behind continuing U.S. economic hardship. “We will not fill those jobs,” The President stated in Warren, Michigan when discussing his plans, “or keep those jobs on our [American] shores- without the training offered by community colleges.” And this makes sense, as community colleges are a means of training people for specific skills and to be more agile to the changing job market. Community colleges teach about 62 percent of allied health professionals and over 80 percent of law enforcement officers and firefighters, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.
The stigma of community college is slowly decaying probably because the economy, like the stigma, is also decaying and people are seeing the economic benefits of going to community colleges and what it can do for the economy. Education, for the most part, is the wall that separates us from success. And community college is the safest and least inexpensive catapults. So high school students, regardless of academic standing, should consider local community colleges on their list along with Harvard and USC. Community college is beacon of hope for high school students who didn’t get accepted anywhere or couldn’t afford it, for people who decided to work or start a family and need to get a better job, or for older people who may just want to study something. It shows that anyone and everyone can strive to their goals, whatever it may be, and that it just takes ambition and a little knowledge.