By Shagun Khare
“_______ is probably going to go to Stanford, and I am probably going to Foothill.” For the hundreds of times we have heard it or even said it, the phrase does not cause a single person to flinch, much less speak up about it. We are enveloped in an environment that is intellectually stimulating and pride ourselves for raising our voices and embracing people of all backgrounds, so why is it that, in Palo Alto, degrading community college has become an acceptable, even mundane occurrence? While we live in a town that allows us to define ourselves as privileged, the term is not one that necessarily applies to all students. Therefore, it is imperative for members of the Palo Alto community to start embracing and stop shaming community college, since it is an option many students will be considering as they begin new chapters in their lives next fall.
According to the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, the two community colleges nearest to Palo Alto have some of the highest graduation and transfer rates in the nation. Foothill College has a rate of about 69 percent, and De Anza College has a rate of 73 percent, far surpassing the national average of 39 percent. Given such success, community college is clearly a viable option for students seeking a more affordable, local school for undergraduate education. And for those who are not accepted to their dream schools, community college in the Bay Area provides students with a second chance, opening up a gateway to more reputable education after just completing two years of school locally.
Additionally, Foothill College has worked with the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) to offer the UCLA Transfer Alliance Program, in which honors students are guaranteed priority consideration for admission to the UCLA College of Letters and Science. According to Foothill College, students experience a 70 to 98 percent acceptance rate through the program, compared to UCLA’s general acceptance rate of 17.3 percent. Therefore, not only is it more likely for one to get into a national university through community college, but it also allows students to save up to $60,000 per year as opposed to the tuition required of students entering as freshmen. So, while students can brag of going to a top college straight out of senior year in high school, by the end of the following four years, community college transfer students can boast the same prestigious university name on their diploma—and for half the price.
Though community college offers gateways to more reputable universities, community college itself is also a legitimate alternative educational experience to more expensive public or private universities. For any student, community college can mean coming out of undergraduate education without the thousands of dollars in debt that one might have to carry for the bulk of their middle-aged life if he or she goes to a private university. Rather than carrying the weight of surmounting debt on their shoulders, students can instead utilize money saved from community college for more valuable endeavors in future years.
While a significant number of students in Palo Alto are privileged enough to afford these more costly schools, for many students these universities are not the most financially suitable options. With community college costing about $3,000 and private universities costing an average of $30,000, by the end of four years of undergraduate education, saving $110,000 can mean a vast realm of savings and opportunities for many families. With that in mind, it is imperative for those who are able to afford such luxuries as private universities to remain respectful of other people’s decisions when it comes to higher education. Joking about matters such as community college not only diminishes students’ worth, but also invalidates the obstacles and difficulties they and their families might have had to endure in order to get to that point in the first place.
Community college is not a code word for stupid. It is a place where students can obtain a valuable education that can help provide them with brighter futures and invaluable opportunities beyond the realm of just education. As a community, it is time for students, parents and teachers alike to begin opening up dialogue about the benefits and viability of community college. We can bring light to more affordable education through the same college counseling sessions, college fairs and general discussion we encounter every single day at school, but that always seem to be revolving around expensive, prestigious universities. Rather than joking about community college, we should praise and respect it, because community college has never been a code word for “stupid”—that is just how our community has perceived it. If anything, community college signifies opportunity, and a chance for an equal education that we all deserve.