My college career began with remedial courses at a community college and ended four years later with a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University.
This makes people flinch. But we all have an unexpected flame inside of ourselves waiting to be lit. I always believed this to be true. Others did not, and justifiably so, as my grades in high school were inconsistent. The marks on my report card followed the waves of my depression.
President Obama’s proposal to expand access to community colleges has many asking why the country should focus on students with the odds against them. I offer my story as one to think about amid this debate.
When I was a high school senior, expensive private colleges seemed unrealistic and only small, flimsy envelopes arrived from four-year state colleges. I scanned the website of Raritan Valley Community College, remembering that a high-achieving friend had just enrolled. That was enough to convince me to apply.
I received a startling text from my aunt after announcing my decision to attend Raritan Valley. “You're going to fail out and ruin your life," read the message. My aunt knew the stereotypes of community college too well. Those who attend two-year schools are thought to be defeatist, uninspired, and lacking in follow-through, according to the stereotype. My parents started community college with the intention of earning a degree, but walked away empty-handed.
Feeling perplexed, I quickly wrote back, “Students transfer from community colleges into top schools like Pepperdine and Syracuse all of the time! There's also an honors society. Some people even get full scholarships. I just need to get above a 3.5.”
"That's never going to happen,” read the message that flashed across the screen of my phone. I was disappointed. She feared that if I went to community college I would derail, forfeiting all hopes for a successful life.
For me, forfeiting wasn’t an option. The eccentric and quick-witted professors, personable and encouraging nature of the college president, and wealth of opportunities to explore made Raritan Valley Community College a well-kept secret that I was fortunate enough to discover.
My mathematics professor enlightened our class with her first lesson. “To be fully proficient in any subject,” she said, “studying an additional six to nine hours each week is essential.” I went home and immediately reorganized my schedule to accommodate this formula for mastery.
The tutoring center was my sanctuary. Although passes to the center were limited, I still managed to convince my professor to give me a few extra. I treated them like golden tickets, rejoicing as I danced down the hallway to book my appointment. In the end, my professor’s ultimate study formula proved to be correct. The high-achieving student within me finally took form.
I was no longer ashamed of not having it all together in high school. I belonged in this land of lost toys. The students I interacted with varied in age. They shared identical challenges but told unfamiliar stories. Community colleges accept more than just everyone’s application. Community colleges welcome all students and support them in their pursuit to improve their lives with education. There’s a reason no other academic institution is more accepting.
I applied to Cornell University with my fingers crossed. When I was accepted and decided to major in communication, I knew the odds were still against me. I didn’t anticipate that community college would lead me to graduating from one of the most competitive universities in the world. However, the tenacity I gained over those two years enabled me to face the odds and flourish.
Now, I share the stories of academically struggling children from low-income neighborhoods for the education nonprofit Practice Makes Perfect. We accept all types of scholars because we know they can achieve academic success through our five-week summer education programs. Learning in an environment that promotes acceptance, whether a summer program or a local community college, can strengthen a weak flame into becoming an invincible fire.
Please think about my story when you think about why community colleges matter – in the decisions of high school guidance counselors, state legislators who allocate funds, and members of Congress who now have a unique opportunity to make a difference.
Casey Randazzo is communication coordinator for Practice Makes Perfect, an intergenerational program that matches struggling elementary and middle school students with high-achieving middle and high school students with the supervision of college interns and expert teachers for an intensive academic summer program. She studied communication at Raritan Valley Community College and received her bachelor’s degree from Cornell University in 2013.
The 2011 decision to end a short-lived program that let students earn two Pell Grants in a single academic year was blamed on a range of factors, including that the program's costs raged out of control and that it failed to encourage students to finish their degrees more quickly. A paper published this morning by the New America Foundation (and discussed in this Inside Higher Ed essay) argues that many of the reasons put forward to explain the program's demise don't stand up to scrutiny -- and that the program, if restored in modified form, could greatly benefit community college students in particular.
Submitted by Paul Fain on January 21, 2015 - 3:00am
The governing board of California's community college system on Tuesday gave initial approval to 15 of the colleges to offer bachelor's degrees. The selected programs were picked from 34 applicants in part because they meet an unaddressed workforce need, the system said. They include bachelor's degrees in health information management, dental hygiene and industrial automation, among others. Lower-division courses in the programs will feature California's standard community college tuition, which is $46 per credit. Upper division courses will be $84 per credit, which should result in a total price of $10,000 in tuition and fees for a bachelor's degree.
California in 2013 began moving toward allowing its 112 community colleges to consider offering four-year degrees. The move was sold as a way to increase public higher education's reach and capacity. The Legislature passed a related bill last August. California will be the largest of more than 20 states where some community colleges can now offer bachelor's degrees.
President Obama's plan for free community college won a high-profile boost last week with an op-ed in The New York Times in which the actor Tom Hanks wrote about how attending a community college changed his life, and said that he hoped the president's plan would move forward.
Responding with star power of his own, John Boehner, speaker of the House of Representatives, sent reporters a blog post Friday in which the speaker's office assembled 12 Taylor Swift gifs in which she is imagined to become skeptical of the free community college idea. It is unclear whether Swift in fact wants Congress to shake off the idea. She has generally avoided political statements. Her publicist did not respond to an inquiry from Inside Higher Ed.
Submitted by Paul Fain on January 16, 2015 - 3:50pm
A California judge's "tentative" ruling on Friday said City College of San Francisco did not receive a fair hearing from its accreditor, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, according to KQED News. A final decision is still pending in the lawsuit, which San Francisco's city attorney filed in a local court. The suit seeks to block the comission's decision 16 months ago to revoke City College's accreditation.
City College and its supporters appear to be gaining the upper hand in the dispute. Also last week the commission granted the college a two-year extension. The college, which enrolls roughly 80,000 students, has been accused of a range of problems, including financial mismanagement. The commission itself has also come under fire, including for apparent conflicts of interest.
Submitted by Paul Fain on January 16, 2015 - 1:57am
The Atlantic has issued a more than 300-word correction to an article on admissions to four-year institutions in the City University of New York (CUNY). The piece, which the magazine published earlier this week, asserts that five of the system's colleges have gotten more selective during the last 15 years, and now admit fewer freshmen from New York City than was previously the case.
An earlier version of the article, however, began by detailing the plight of a local applicant who said he was rejected by several CUNY colleges. The system fired back with two written responses that challenged the claims by the student, who attends New York University. CUNY said the student was admitted to his four top choices in the system. On Thursday the magazine removed the anecdote, which "inaccurately portrayed the order of events that led the student to his ultimate decision about where to enroll in college," according to the correction note.
The Atlantic article was reported with funding from the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute, an advocacy group that focuses on the media, social justice and civil rights. On Thursday, it removed quotes from the chairman of the institute's board from the article. In addition, the magazine corrected various statistics about enrollment trends at CUNY. (Note: This paragraph has been updated from an earlier version to clarify information.)
"This article has been significantly revised post-publication to correct for factual errors in the original version," the magazine said.
Submitted by Paul Fain on January 15, 2015 - 3:00am
City College of San Francisco's regional accreditor has granted the college a two-year restoration of its accreditation status. The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) in 2013 moved to revoke the community college's accreditation, citing financial mismanagement and a wide range of other problems. That would have been a death blow to the huge institution, which would have lost eligibility for federal and state student aid programs.
The college's supporters and the accreditor have waged a politicized battle during the last 16 months. The commission has come under fire during the process, and received a reprimand from the U.S. Department of Education. Then, last June, the commission offered a reprieve to City College by allowing it to apply for two years to fix the identified problems. The college applied for that option, receiving it last week, according to the commission.
Both sides in the dispute are awaiting a ruling by a San Francisco Superior Court judge on a lawsuit that Dennis Herrera, the city attorney in San Francisco, filed last year. Herrera is seeking to block the accreditor's actions, accusing it of political bias, improper procedures and conflicts of interest. The judge is expected to make a decision this week.