But What if I Don’t Get In?

Why community college is a quality option for all students.


Francesca Smith ‘23

Just a mile and a half away from Notre Dame’s campus is LA Valley College, which offers more than 140 associate degree and certificate programs.

Over 40% of undergraduates attend community college (higher education today), so why is the misconception that community college is for people that didn’t try hard enough in high school so prevalent?

    Many students feel like they’re taking the easy way out, or not living up to their potential if they don’t attend a four-year college right out the gate. In reality, attending community college is one of the most financially responsible decisions a person can make. Most of us know about the many benefits of attending community college—saving money, getting your general education credits out of the way, and more flexibility with scheduling.

    The average in-state tuition at a public 4-year institution is $25,707 per year in the US (educationdata.org). With tuition going up across the board, student loan debt plagues the vast majority of educated Americans. Due to its affordability, Community College is often the only option for students pursuing an education. Additionally, students elect to take core courses at a community college– as it is often the same quality education as a university but for a fraction of the price– and then transfer those credits to a 4-year university. At Los Angeles Valley College for example, one unit is only $46. This offers lower income students a path to get their general education requirements fulfilled, and focus solely on their degree at a university.

    In California, the community college system has a Transfer Admission Guarantee (TAG) program that offers a guaranteed transfer spot at several colleges and universities. Additionally, Mr. Arii notes that community college is a great pathway into a 4-year institution, “For that student that realized they didn’t work as hard as they wanted to in high school or their grades don’t academically reflect the type of student that they are” 

Community colleges offer a wide variety of classes, including ones in the morning, night, or even online. Having this flexibility gives students time for other things, whether it be acting, music, or art related, or time for work in order to save up some money for when they transfer to a 4-year university. This gives students time for passion projects or time to build a stable foundation before they go off to pursue a bachelor’s degree. 

A possible source of stigma surrounding community college may stem from poor marketing. Many California Community College advertisements focus on the low costs and small set of application requirements. This low price may be associated with a low quality of education. The lack of application requirements may create false perceptions that the attending students are not intelligent or motivated. However, to teach at a community college, professors are required to have at least a master’s degree, and preference is often given to those with a PhD. Therefore, these incredible institutions make great quality, higher education accessible to a vast majority of the population. Several community colleges also offer baccalaureate degrees, which creates a variety of career opportunities open to students. 

    So why don’t more community colleges advertise these programs? Do more research into this; quote from nd teacher 

Some people want the “freshman experience” that can only be achieved at a typical 4 year college. Experiences like dorm life, Greek life, living on campus, and making friends freshman year. Many students feel like these are important milestones that they don’t want to miss. However, the desire to go to a 4-year college straight out of high school could be stemming from the fear of how going to community college would look to their family and peers. 

One anonymous student said, “In my head I know that community college is a great decision, but in reality I want a traditional college experience and I know my parents would be disappointed if I took the community college route. They don’t believe that the programs offered would give me a quality education.”

One big deterrent of community college, specifically at Notre Dame, is the fact that our label is ‘college preparatory school.’ Our administration boasts the fact that 95% of our graduates attend a 4-year college immediately after high school. That mindset doesn’t exactly lend itself to students feeling comfortable saying that they’re forgoing university for the moment. That being said, our counselors are trying to change this culture by bringing more options like community college into students’ application lists.

On behalf of the counseling department, Mr. Arii encourages students to explore all of their options for life after high school.“I don’t want [students] to think about options after high school as good or bad. 2 year colleges are not bad– it’s an option. Options are options and options are great. What is good for one might not be good for another and vice versa,” he said. 

Despite all of the general education credits, guaranteed transfer spots, and incredibly reduced prices, community college is still looked down upon in many academic spaces like traditional universities and many high schools. It’s a shame that community college carries a stigma with it, because it offers important opportunities for people who otherwise would not be able to pursue higher education.

Schools need to begin advertising community colleges as viable options in their own right instead of a last resort. This approach could help to break the stigma and myth of low-quality education that often accompanies 2-year colleges.