Lining the hallways of the English building are posters for local community colleges, showing students all that community colleges have to offer. (Photo by Vy Nguyen)


Opinion: Community colleges have more to offer than what meets the eye

From meeting students’ academic needs to offering immense resources for college, community colleges are working to outgrow the age-old stigma attached to their name.
<a href="" target="_self">Vy Nguyen</a>

Vy Nguyen

February 28, 2023

As fall rolls around, the season holds a special, if not fearful, meaning for seniors: the dawn of college decisions. When choosing schools, students are encouraged to consider all choices, which certainly rings true when it comes to community colleges. Having proved their importance, these colleges address students’ needs that aren’t met elsewhere, though they are often overlooked. As students evaluate what’s best for their future, students may come to find an unexpected ally in the colleges closest to home.

Community colleges have a mixed reputation. Depending on where you live or the culture you’re surrounded by, the thought of going to community college can be negative for some. But what makes community colleges so unattractive to certain people? One of the biggest qualms for students is the lack of prestige or title, which translates into less connections for jobs, while others say community colleges are academically inferior.

Though the open-door approach to admissions can make community colleges seem less notable, don’t be fooled. Just like the name implies, community colleges mold themselves to the needs of their community.

Community colleges are a bridge for students to close the gap between high school and higher education. Accessibility is one thing community colleges excel at, which contrasts the harsh elitism of colleges today, with acceptance rates growing smaller and smaller. In California, the only requirement to enter community college is to have a high school diploma. Even with this requirement, there is flexibility since community colleges are willing to accept students without a diploma if they believe the student will still benefit from a college education.

Aside from open enrollment, community colleges are well known for costs that won’t break your bank account. While the average tuition for a full-time student at a UC is $13,752, community college costs average to $1,380. At a rate of $46 per unit in California, this is the lowest fee in the US. Additional student aid programs greatly reduce costs not covered in tuition for textbooks and transportation. Several schools even provide guaranteed transfers to UC universities, as long as students meet credit requirements — all for the same cost during the first two years of college. With the nation’s crisis of massive student loan debt, going to community college shouldn’t be known as a second-rate choice, but a responsible choice for many.

With accessibility comes opportunity. At first glance, the opportunities offered at community colleges may not be much compared to universities. Given universities’ ability to specialize and further niche programs, students have the chance to participate in research, join various clubs or build their network. However, what many fail to notice is community college’s role in helping students in between the lines, namely students who are not yet ready to make the leap from high school to college.

“My high school did not prepare me for college…I didn’t have the skill set needed to be successful in a four-year college (but) I knew I needed to go to school to be successful in life,” said Fountain Valley High School (FVHS) health teacher Bill Birinyi. “I needed to go to a level higher than high school (but) lower than university.”

This is where community colleges address a key struggle in students’ lives, one often marked with shame for students. Though universities allow undecided majors and switching majors in the middle of the school year, universities are limited in their specialized curriculum and may not offer a wide enough range of classes for students to explore. Whereas, at a community college, the learning environment — not to mention the school culture — is arguably much more accommodating to undecided majors.

The freedom to find one’s interests at community colleges reverses the antiquated idea that all students should have their futures planned out at 18 years old. Instead of being cut off after high school for not yet knowing their direction, community colleges are students’ access points to continue their education and discover their passions, allowing them to thrive in life.

However, what continues to hinder community colleges is their stature and network, which can fall short in comparison to a university.

“I think [college prestige] plays a role to some extent. Jobs would look for better colleges and better connections,” FVHS sophomore Hilary Nguyen said. “Normally, the people who have these connections are the ones that go to prestigious colleges.”

Given their nature to serve mostly the community, community colleges’ reputation and connections are not necessarily things that can change. In return, community colleges strive to offer resources students can apply during employment, such as skills training. Nonetheless, universities generally have a wider network of connections that can help students find jobs with more ease.

Though they aren’t perfect, community colleges sure deserve more credit than we give them.

Community colleges hold a genuine value in students’ academic journey. They prepare students for a four-year college, whether financially or academically. Though not the same as a university, FVHS students who attend community college shouldn’t be judged or subjected to a lower status. Rather, we as a student body need to promote the benefits of community colleges to reach audiences that need them the most.

After all, the college experience doesn’t embody the fulfillment of a student’s potential, it’s only the start. And anything that acts as a stepping stone for students’ bright futures is valuable in and of itself.

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