The Case for Community Colleges.
In her article The Community College/‘Real College’ Divide, Kristin O’Keefe relates,
You know what saddened me when I worked at the community college? Overhearing or meeting students who sounded apologetic for being there. They had heard the message that community college was not real college, and they listened.
So next time someone shares the news that they’re going to community college, how about this? Tell them they are amazing. Tell them they have taken the first step to being a college graduate and that step can change their life. Tell them you are proud of them.
They deserve it. Because those students? They’re as real as the colleges they plan to attend.
I’d really like to double down on everything this article says. Prejudice against Community Colleges are really rooted in an extremely poor understanding of the current state of college systems and academia. Currently the business model of large Universities is to employ large numbers of graduate students and few professors. Obviously this has a two pronged effect: universities produce large amounts of PHDs every year, and provides extremely few jobs at the research university level. So where do these research producing PHDs, who in previous generations would have gotten a job at any UC go? You guessed it.
Three of the best educators I have ever encountered were at DVC. Here are their breakdowns:
Manuel Gonzales was the Western Civilization and Chicano Studies Professor. After I took all of his classes, I was his TA for a year, going so far as to lecture the class under his supervision. As a 19 year old, I never would have been afforded such an opportunity at a 4 year school. Manny had published a textbook and a whole slew of articles on Mexicanos in the United States, and was in the process of writing another book when I was going there. It’s worth noting that he had intermittently lectured at UC Berkeley, and his CV was impressive enough to get him a faculty position there. But he chose DVC. He was a greatly involved teacher, much more so than most of the professors I encountered at UCLA.
Jim Rawls authored the textbook on California History that is an academic standard, and used in classrooms across the state. Again, Jim was warm and personable, and an amazing teacher.
Keith Mikolavich was one of the finest English instructor I have ever had, and I’ve had no shortage of great ones. (Shout out to Mr. Cautero, my high school English teacher for two years.) Now I’m not sure if Keith “just” had his MA, and I can’t say if he published much, but his Shakespeare and Early British Literature courses left an incredible impression, and his feedback on my writing left its mark.
Now, if I were to recount the three Professors at UCLA that left their mark, I’d have to count Joan Waugh teaching about the Civil War, J. Arch Getty teaching about Soviet History–and Fiona Halloran, a graduate student in American History. That’s right, I had a great experience at UCLA, but ultimately I found many Professors to be wholly disinterested in undergraduates, and in big barn lecture halls, I had to work hard to distinguish myself to my educators. Honestly, most of my peers would have been just as well off with the reading list and lectures from The Teaching Company given their involvement in the class.
Now I’m sure the inevitable protest will be, “but what about the difference in outcomes?” To which I’ll reply, post hoc ergo propter hoc.
Oh I’m sorry, having trouble keeping up with my Community College education? Here, I’ll explain.
I’d argue that the factors that distinguish the outcomes between the average UC Berkeley grad and the average CC -> CSU grad were laid long before they ever went to college. The Cal student likely went to schools with strong AP programs and had access to test prep. It also stands to reason that they likely had no shortage of Professional guidance from family, and connections to get them well paying jobs upon graduation.
At all levels of education, you get out what you put in. And unless there is a specific program the student wants to participate in or specific professors a prospective college student wants to work with, the student will be better served going to a Community College where the professors are more likely to be invested in an individual students learning and get them interested in a subject or discipline.
The idea that we have to send absolutely all students to four year institutions is harmful in an era of ballooning costs. The denigration of Community Colleges as somehow inherently substandard is not rooted in reality. Instead it reeks of classism from institutions that disproportionately educate the rich; racism against institutions that heavily serve minority communities; and ageism against schools that provide accessibility for adults trying to continue their education.
Let’s throw this bullshit bias out too, shall we?