• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

Title

Ask the Administrator: This One Is Complicated…

The quest for an academic turnaround.

 

January 9, 2019
 
 

Wise and worldly readers, especially in California, I need your help with this one.

A frustrated prospective returning student writes:

I apologize in advance for the lengthy email. I have a particularly unique situation and for many years I pondered how to surpass this. I’d like to start with a bit of my background in hopes that you may be able to help me. I've always been a A or B student so everything that transpired to me seemed like a harsh blow. In 2011 -2012 I went directly to [a Cal State campus] after high school I was just barely passing classes had a couple of failed courses as well but I passed some classes. I was placed on academic probation. I was living in the dorms with my roommate and through her I met this guy that would turn my life around in the worst way possible. This guy convinced me to take fault for a theft to my roommate that I didn’t commit that he in fact had committed but when initially questioned by my roommate I had no knowledge of.  Knowing that it had been his second offense and that I was in academic probation I took fault. The dean of affairs decided to expel me from [Cal State] to never continue my education in this school. Since I was under academic probation and I had failed my last semester due to the stress of being questioned by the police for something my roommate was involved in(drug related) I didn’t care at the time; thinking that I would be able to surpass this and start all over later. I was placed under a year suspension from setting foot on that campus and from being able to apply to any CAL State, University or Private University. This guy that my roommate had introduced me was my boyfriend at the time. Being incredibly stupid, young and naive I took the fault willingly at the time.

However one year passed after our breakup, it finally dawned on me the stupidity of my actions by accepting that sentence and not knowing also at the time that I could have fought her verdict. I decided to enroll in [my local] community college where I was receiving help that paid for just my classes. I no longer was receiving financial aid and was working to continue my education. I took maybe a year of classes on and off because I now had to work to be able to afford my books. Unable to qualify for financial aid due to the financial aid office requiring a sealed transcript from my previous school that I wasn’t able to afford from CSU at $800, unsealed copies are free of charge but not accepted by financial aid.  I wasn’t sure if I could transfer any credits so I just started all over now 2013. I was distracted with work and depressed at the fact that I would have to start again from nothing and slowly but surely failed some courses, while passing others. I retook and failed the same courses. Towards the end of that first year and a half I gave up, partly because the high school friends that I had were almost done with their bachelor’s degrees and I fell into a harder depression envious of what they had and thinking that if I hadn’t been in “love” and had made that dumb decision back in 2012 I’d be nearly graduating with them too.

I’ve thought about going back year after year since the last time I went to school. I wish there was a way to start all over again but without having to take a placement test as this would set me back further. I see myself everyday stressing over that decision that ruined my life. I no longer talk to any of those friends I’ve had because I envied them for their accomplishments. I want to go back but I see too many obstacles now, financial aid, affordability, not wanting to go back to [my local] community college for fear of running into anyone that I once knew and fear of dropping out again due to me being able to afford college and working full time to make rent. At the moment I’m working at a company where the pay is ok but In order to obtain better pay I must have a degree. I work in accounts payable with minimum wage rising even more every year living in southern California. I see that all my hard work in getting better pay is almost for nothing. I really want to go back but not sure what I can do. What are my options?I read so many articles that you have to have a certain amount of credits to transfer to a UC or CAL state but never from a Cal State to a community college..... Is any of my time I went to any of these schools still valid or now that its 2019 would I have to start all over again? If I pay for classes now would I later be able to qualify for financial aid if I keep my grades up? If I pay the $800(I don’t know if the fees have increased or changed since 2013) for a sealed transcript from CSU would I later be able to qualify for financial aid? If I have exceeded the amount of retakes for a course in the past will I not be able to start over? Whom must I talk to particularly to assess my situation? I have not applied this year to college because I’m not sure of my options. I know that this a stretch but I’m so tired of not being able to attain my goals due to my insecurities and past failures. Thank you for reading this far I greatly appreciate it.

I’ll start with a few of the more basic points, then open it up to my wise and worldly readers for the more personal side of it.

Yes, you can usually transfer credits from a university to a community college. I’ve never heard of an $800 transcript fee, so I’m guessing that the $800 (or most of it) represents an unpaid balance from when you were last there.  Sometimes colleges will withhold transcripts from students who owe them money. You could certainly ask for a hardship waiver.

Yes, you can still get financial aid even if you previously paid for a semester or two yourself.  In terms of GPA, most need-based aid only requires “satisfactory academic progress.” That usually means passing at least ⅔ of your classes.

Any credits you earned should still be good.  Typically, they don’t carry expiration dates. The only exception I’ve heard of with that is in some science and math fields, where it needs to be less than 7 to 10 years old.  But that’s unusual, and only in specialized areas. I wouldn’t worry about that.

In terms of cost, some employers who insist on degrees as conditions of advancement will offer partial or total reimbursement for tuition.  Many don’t, but it’s worth asking. If your employer does, that could take one challenge off the table. Even if they only do reimbursement, instead of fronting the cost, at least you could roll it over after the first semester.

I wouldn’t be too concerned about seeing people you know at the local community college.  Students turn over pretty quickly, and it has been several years.

All of that aside, though, I’m worried about the pessimism in the letter.  It can become self-fulfilling.

If you have a friend or family member or colleague who can take the plunge with you, that might help; at least you’d have someone to keep you on track.  If not, or even if you do, I’d definitely recommend starting with seeking out the counseling office on campus. It sounds like getting a handle on self-doubt could be an issue.  There’s absolutely no shame in getting help. In terms of the academic side, I’d recommend looking for a “student success” course in your first term back. It can help you figure out how to “do” college. 

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers, I feel like there’s much more to say.  What would you suggest?

Have a question?  Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.

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