Defying the stigma of community college4 min read

May 3, 2016

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When 18-year-old political science major Dara Streit first told her high school classmates that she would be attending a community college, she was met with looks of pity.

“Most of my friends were attending four year universities and I felt judged for choosing the transfer route,” Streit said. “I had my reasons for attending De Anza but to them I became a stereotype.”

This sentiment is shared among many students at local community colleges. Despite the practical reasons for attending two-year institutions and the success stories of those who have partaken in vocational schools, there is still a stigma towards community colleges and a negative perception for the students who attend it.

Rather than make disparaging comments towards their life choices and trivializing their education, we all must educate each other on the positive impact community college has on students and the American education system as a whole.

Throughout the brutal process of college admissions in the U.S., students are faced with constant reminders of the high standards set by their families, peers and respective communities. Particularly in the Silicon Valley, high school students are pressured into overloading themselves with Advanced Placement courses, extracurricular activities, volunteer work and internships – all while attempting to maintain ridiculously high test scores and competitive grade point averages.

The negative effects of this pressure can be seen in the Palo Alto Unified School District as it, according to The Atlantic, faces a suicide rate between four to five times the national average

This drive to succeed leads to students overworking themselves and, in some cases, cheating in academics for spots at top universities at the expense of their knowledge, academic honesty, personal growth, and mental health.

This gives rise to the notion that a student attending anything but the “best” – schools like Stanford, UC Berkeley, and UCLA – is a failure. While there is a stigma towards certain universities that are perpetuated as not being good enough, the biased views towards community colleges place these schools in more of a negative light.

This illogical thinking is particularly disrespectful towards the 2.3 million students in the California Community College system, many of whom come from disadvantaged communities.

Among this diverse pool are demographics often marginalized. There are veterans, high school students looking to get an early start on higher education, single parents wanting to support their families and many other nontraditional students who benefit from a community college setting. And of course, the thousands of students who may not have been able to afford a four year university or felt unprepared to leave their families and pursue a Bachelor’s degree quite yet

In fact, according to the California Community College’s Chancellor’s Office, De Anza College had a retention rate of 90 percent for transferrable students in Fall of 2015. De Anza also consistently ranks as the community college with the highest graduation and transfer rates in the state. Last year alone, De Anza sent 815 students to UC Berkeley with an average GPA of 3.81.

Of course, statistics alone don’t offer a holistic picture of the influence this community college has on students.

In the spring of 2015 one of the most notable advocates for American community colleges visited De Anza. Jill Biden, a college professor and wife of Vice President Joe Biden, met with student leaders on campus to learn of their inspiring stories and the opportunities higher education offers.

Biden described community colleges as one of America’s “best-kept secrets.” Biden’s official statement from the White House states, “What is even more impressive than the statistics of student success at De Anza College are the students themselves.”

Political science major Mia X. Hernandez, 22, was one of the students who met with Biden. As a community organizer on campus she has played an active role in student government, Latino Empowerment at De Anza (LEAD), and participated in many other programs the school offers. Regarding her time here Hernandez said, “I love De Anza because of the intersectionality of our students creates a diverse environment where we learn from and teach one another. In result, we build thriving communities on campus that foster family relationships with each other.”

In essence, community colleges represent just that – a family. For years they have trained and educated students for not just the skills needed for careers but the means to overcome life’s challenges. More importantly, colleges like De Anza encourage individuals to give back to the diverse communities that have given them so much and empower students to defy any stereotype that may come their way.



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