Do community colleges have a stigma? Yes — but some folks see the light

Here’s another batch of responses from my survey of how people view the quality of community colleges — and whether those schools carry a stigma.

Some of the first responses indicated that both students and school staffers — including those at two-year-colleges — see them as a second-best alternative to four-years.

This next batch has a few painfully blunt responses — and some revelations.

One K-12 school staffer:

Our counselor reports: “Yes!! Completely a huge stereotype!! Students are sad when I mention it to them (even if they have a 1.5 GPA and earned a 13 on their ACT). Many students say, “No, don’t say it — I don’t want to go to a junior college.” They call it the “dumb school”… They call it “just like high school”  and not a real school. When we visited Minneapolis Community & Technical College, I begged for them to give us free lunch to try to build more morale for a “junior college” and talk about the connection it has to the U of MN.”

Roseville Area High School parent Diane Raff described the stigma — but it looks like she got the last laugh:

When we first said my son was looking at some two year programs, teachers, counselors and neighbors looked shocked. … It was very clear, very early that his high school as a strong bias towards 4-year colleges, and that he would receive little if any valuable information from the school. … Now that the economy has been tough, and few 4-year grads get jobs, people say, “Wow, that’s a great idea…”

Student Blaine Ponto, who stated he’s living in Hanover, New Hampshire, and listed his college connections to Dartmouth, the University of Minnesota and Spring Lake Park High School, was also frank about what he thought:

When I was at high school, I always thought technical colleges were for people who knew the exact trade they wanted to do, but community colleges I considered for those who weren’t intelligent enough to get into anywhere else. I learned how wrong I was, though, when a great number of my brightest friends picked the local CC. Our school as a whole is completely accepting of them, even encouraging.

And a couple of MnSCU administrators and a counselor came to the community colleges’ defense.

Barb Fisher, a Rainy River Community College administrator — but who was speaking as a parent — saw the community college choice as a natural:

I encourage everyone to start at a community college. In this day and age it’s crazy not to. Class sizes are smaller, tuition is lower, and the credits transfer as long as the student earns a 2.0 GPA or higher. …

I have 3 kids who all started at Rainy River Community College. One transfered to BSU, one to the U of MN, and one to Mercyhurst College in Erie, PA. All their credits transferred and they saved a considerable sum of money. Their four-year degrees will show they graduated from their four-year school and their student loans will be MUCH smaller.

Central High School counselor Nate Flanders in St. Paul was blunter:

Common sense says we don’t need to into debt for a piece of paper that cost thousands and thousands of dollars if we can obtain the same paper for less money and less time. A two-year jumpstart could really add up.

Lynda Milne, a MnSCU administrator in the Center for Teaching and Learning, said:

… Our public two-year colleges are third-highest in the U.S. in the rate at which students successfully transfer to universities, and #5 in the nation for combined graduation and transfer rates.

Yet she continued more philosophically:

I’d agree with what one of your commentaries noted, that there are students in two-year classrooms who are not fully prepared for college. But our colleges are open-access institutions where many adults get a second chance at an education that they may not have taken seriously in high school. Should we close the doors, or raise the bar, to prohibit them?

  • Ray

    I agree that two years colleges have a stigma. But I would like to share my recent experience in a metro CC. I registered for an Anthropology class that was taught by a very well educated and very experienced instuctor. The class was extremely challenging compared to most of the graduate classes that I recently experienced as I earned a master’s degree. The knowlege that I gained in this class has continued to enrich my life and open several new areas of interest for me. There are great educators in the system.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve also seen some amazing ones in action. Oddly, the stigma seemed almost nonexistent where I grew up in California. Considering the strength of the Minnesota system and the (former?) egalitarian nature of its social policy, I’m a bit puzzled.