As the year is coming to a close, the graduating class of 2017 have made their final decisions on the schools they will be attending next year. They’ve received the letters and emails that begin with “Congratulations!” or “I regret to inform you that…” However, many students graduating this year have decided to take a different route than other Redwood students who have committed to attending a four year college– whether that be getting an internship to gain experience in their particular field of interest, traveling the world or attending community college. Community college is an exceptional alternative for those who simply aren’t ready to make the commitment that attending a four-year university requires, because it exposes students to different ways of living— a vital aspect to assimilating in college life. Whatever the reason may be for students committing to a community college—financial circumstances, academic under qualifications, personal reasons, etc.—it is an exceptional option for many. However, although it’s difficult for many to admit, there is a prevalent stigma in Marin around the prospect of students attending a community college after their senior year.
During the early 1920’s, community colleges were much smaller than they are today. When community colleges were first forming, they rarely enrolled more than 150 students, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. It was a reasonable option for those who were reluctant to leave home for a distant college. However, attending a community college did not suggest a student’s academic capabilities were lacking– in fact, three quarters of high school graduates chose this route in the 1920s, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.
Living in an affluent area like Marin County, a high percentage of parents have college degrees. According to a study conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 54 percent of parents in Marin have a bachelor’s degree and an additional 22.5 percent have an advanced degree. Of course parents want what’s best for their children, but a majority of parents in our community have preconceived notions that their child must attend the best university possible―which for many Marin parents doesn’t mean attending a community college.
The cost of college in our country causes creates immense financial distress for many American families. The cost of college has increased by sixfold in the last thirty years, and the total amount of student loan debt by American college students exceeds $1 trillion, according to the College Board. A student shouldn’t feel unaccomplished if their family can’t afford the expense of college tuition. In reality, those student’s choice to attend community college is the best option available for them, at a fraction of the price.
According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2016–2017 school year was $33,480 at private colleges, $9,650 for state residents at public colleges, and $24,930 for out-of-state residents attending public universities. However, for students attending community college, the average annual tuition fees for students were $3,347 for the 2014-2015 academic year. In some cases, that could save a family approximately $30,000. Plus, it’s a waste to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on college tuition when the child isn’t even benefiting from the school, or if the student drops out. According to study conducted by Harvard University, a driving factor that leads to students dropping out of college has to do with the rising cost of college.
If a student ultimately decides to start out at a community college, there is still the option to transfer to a four-year university, if they work hard. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 60 percent of students that transfer from community colleges earn a bachelor’s degree in four years.
That being said, some believe that attending a community college doesn’t provide the same quality of education as four year universities. However, depending on how hard the student works at a community college, they can get the same degree as someone that went to a four-year university, or just transfer.
Marin parents have high expectations for their children, so they assume that going to a community college means your future is doomed. However, we must pop the Marin bubble of affluence and single mindedness to recognize that community college is the right option for many students. If it’s a part of our community’s culture to discredit those who chose alternative routes of education, then we will have a society of unprepared and unsuccessful students.