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Reversing the Stigma of Community College

Taylor Hunsberger is a Program Collaborator for The Validation Project, based in New York City.

Attending community college is stereotypically associated with a stigma, but why? In an economy where student debt only continues to rise, community college remains one of the few affordable options for incoming students. The myth of meritocracy fosters a narrative that community college is for those who didn't work hard enough. It's quite the opposite.

Community college provides higher education opportunities for lower income communities and allows students to save money while living at home. A good friend and co-worker of mine, Nicole, attends a community college in our hometown while living at home and working part-time as a pharmacy technician. Nicole originally began attending community college due to her financial situation and because of the overwhelming cost of a four-year college.

At first, she was upset and annoyed because of the stigma, but over the past year she has grown to love it and wishes it were a four-year program. She even received a full ride scholarship for her first year through the school and continues to receive a scholarship through her job to cover outside college expenses.

These are opportunities that she may not have had otherwise if she had attended a four-year institution.

Nicole is enrolled in the criminal justice program and I asked about her experience as a community college student. She had an overwhelmingly positive response and went on to explain how the classroom settings at her school have given her the individual attention that she needs to receive the best education possible. She says:

“The professors that I’ve had are really passionate about what they teach us. They make sure each student is understanding the content and wants each student to succeed. Compared to a large university, the classes are pretty small, usually consist of 25-30 students so the professors really make an effort to get that one-on-one contact with students. I am in the honors program, so the classes are even smaller, consisting of 18 students and no more than that. In those classes, there is even more of that one-to one contact.”

Nicole loves having personal relationships with her professors and feels as if this is an experience that makes community college such a unique and worthwhile opportunity. She also spoke about how she much she values being able to take some of the same classes as her peers who are at 4 year schools, but at a significantly lower cost.

She is able to have the same quality of education while being able to afford it.

Her school also offers great scholarships, clubs, and organizations, just as any other four-year school would offer.

Overall, Nicole has loved her experience more than she had ever thought and could not ask for a better higher education. Her plan for the future is to graduate with her associate’s degree and transfer to a local state school in the hopes of using her criminal justice degree to become an evidence technician. Community college is an often overlooked and stigmatized resource that is providing incredible opportunities at an affordable cost. Nicole is a prime example of the opportunity that comes with a community college education.

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