Observing the stigmas surrounding community college at AHS
Prologue: Judgement Day
Five-or-so minutes before passing period, I began to routinely gather my belongings, sliding them into my backpack draped on the left handle of my four-wheel walker. Before I had even clicked my binder shut, a great majority of my classmates had already clustered themselves near the doorway, making it virtually impossible to get out of my seat.
Sitting at my desk, awaiting the bell I launched the Twitter app on my decaying iPhone. Out of the corner of my eye I saw one of my peers approaching me. She waved hello and casually propped herself on the desk to my right. She then proceeded to ask me the question on every senior’s mind at the time, “What colleges have you gotten accepted into?”
I simply replied, “None. I’m planning to attend Chabot [Community College] first to complete my general education classes.”
The interested smile that once donned her face turned into a blasé smirk. “You’re so much smarter than that,” she said. “Don’t sell yourself short.”
Before I could defend my decision the bell rang—she was gone.
Act One: The Skeptical Majority
Many students at American seem to associate community college with lackluster education, which is simply not the case. For the first two years of a student’s college life—whether it be a community college or a UC—they are only earning credits towards their general education requirements. In other words, a student that attends community college will be participating in the same standardized classes that a student at a four-year university would be required to take.
Standing near the back of the library, leaning on a tan bookshelf, Vasanth Senthilraja (12) noted how parents play a vital role in why so many students at American are opposed to community college.
“Wealthy parents prefer [that] their children go to a UC,” Senthilraja said. “Most parents would believe that a UC is better than community college.”
Senthilraja also seemed to link a University’s prestigious “reputation” to a graduate’s chances of landing a well-paying job.
“I just feel that if you go to community college, you might not get recognition when you apply for a job,” Senthilraja explained. “We always tend to look for better jobs and really high positions, so we tend to look for a college with a good reputation. When we get a job it looks like we came from a good place.”
Sebastian Moreira (11), whose dream is to study computer science at Cal Poly University, does not take as firm of a stance as his senior counterpart.
“My problem with community college is not the level of education one receives but how long it takes to acquire that education,” Moreira said. “My understanding is that, often, the classes an individual needs to take in order to transfer are often booked quickly, making the student wait until the next semester to take that necessary class.”
Act Two: Shunning the stigmas
A perception of community college that often is misconstrued is that a student has no freedom, having to stay home and likely live with their parents. I guess it’s how you view the situation because in my eyes and the subjects I interviewed, community college has the potential to open up opportunities outside of the classroom if prioritized correctly. With the flexible schedule that a community college provides, students are able to obtain a part-time job while still being able to perform well academically.
Sitting in the break room waiting to clock in at four, I asked fellow coworker and Eagle, Balagovind Sandeep (12), otherwise known as “Bala” around campus—the same question that my classmate asked me, “What colleges have you gotten accepted into?”
“I’m going to community college,” the 3.5 GPA student who takes an interest in aeronautics replied with a proud smile.
Bala and I carried out our conversation whenever time was permitted as worked our respective cashier stations. As the conversation developed Bala revealed that he was accepted into CSU Sacramento, SJSU, UC Riverside, and UC Merced. He ultimately turned these opportunities down because of the flexibility that a community college would provide.
“I have no monetary responsibilities so I am able to save up the money I earn,” Bala said. “Saving up money and taking prerequisites for a year seemed like a better idea to me than spending an absurd amount of money away from home.”
Bala for the most part, is confident that he made the right decision, but is also fearful that he might miss out on the “college experience.”
“I’m worried that I won’t be able to get the ‘freshman at university’ experience,” Bala said. “I fear that community college will be closer to high school than it is to university. I just need to get past that and focus on my education.”
Not every high schooler that steps onto a community college campus knows exactly what they would like to pursue, using the two years to mature and cement their career path. Lindzey Cosper (12), a student who promotes student activism on today’s hot-button topics and who has also earned an impressive 3.8 GPA throughout her high school career, told me she originally chose community college for a number of reasons.
“Personally, I am not ready to be on my own emotionally or financially, so for the two years before I transfer I find value in being with my family,” Cosper said.
Planning to major in psychology, Cosper immediately endured some backlash for her decision from her friends, but she is determined to stay on track and not let the “misconceptions” faze her.
“I’ve had a few friends think I was dumb because I’m going to community college but I think that is due to this misconception of it,” Cosper affirmed. “I will be learning the same general education material as someone at a CSU or UC but at a fraction of the cost. In the long run it is the smarter thing to do, especially if you are going in undeclared. I think students should realize there is absolutely nothing wrong with going to a community college, personally, I find it to be a nice transition period before going into a four year and easing your way into a big life change.”
After interviewing Cosper, the benefits of community college were clear, her personal experience validated my beliefs and solidified the sentiment that community college can be an optimal choice for many students.
A week-or-so after interviewing Cosper, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed. Surprised, I saw that Lindzey Cosper changed her mind. The status read that Cosper would be attending The Academy of Arts in the fall.
The following Wednesday I checked Cosper’s profile for a second time. After skimming through various different posts it was revealed that the status had been removed.
“I’m not going there now because it was wildly expensive and I can’t ask my family to pay for it,” Cosper told me through text. “However it doesn’t mean I can try again later on but it’s just not working out right now and that’s okay, things take time.”
Act Three: “There is always a way out”
I never really gave into the over-used cliché, “anything is possible”—until I interviewed Isaac Rodriguez.
Diagnosed with type one diabetes during his sophomore year, Isaac Rodriguez found his grades dropping fast. The “almost 4.0 student” up until that point, had to decide to go to an Adult School or transfer to Robertson High School, a correctional high school that assists students who are struggling to earn the necessary amount of credits, graduate with a high school diploma.
“The only options were to go to Adult School or Robertson,” Rodriguez said. “Adult School was going to be too stressful for my medical conditions, so I went to Robertson.”
Once the second quarter of junior year arrived, Rodriguez was forced to leave American and its safeguards that he had become accustomed to. At Robertson, he quickly learned the false stereotypes that plagued the campus.
“Not everybody that goes there is a bad student, everybody has their reasons for being there, whether it be medical, or family,” Rodriguez said. “I used the tools that they had at Robertson, the good staffing, and the smaller class sizes, [which] is the big thing that helped at Robertson.”
Rodriguez would sustain a 4.0 GPA throughout his time at Robertson, graduating a semester early, earning his diploma this past January. Now, the high school graduate is enjoying his remarkable turnaround, planning to take general education classes at Chabot this upcoming fall.
“The transfer from community college to a four-year, rather than high school straight to a four-year, is much easier—it is almost like a second chance,” Rodriguez stated. “Also, a lot of community colleges offer good programs that rival what four-years have to offer, so I have to take advantage of that.”
When asked if he had any concerns about what the future holds, he paused, chuckled and said, “Nothing really.”