Community colleges are known for their low-cost tuition and because they take every student applicant in. But the fact that community colleges are the cheapest way to higher education, has branded two-year colleges as trade schools.
Since two-year schools occupy the lowest level on the higher-education hierarchy, their role in society is greatly overlooked.
Students who attend community colleges had a long way to go in the past, but with the current scandal admissions that have plagued elite schools and the case of rising tuition and crippling student debt, community college students are now the antidote to fix the broken image of higher education, especially that of elite schools.
The image of the self-driven student who works many jobs and feels grateful to pursue higher education with his/her own sweat and tears, which correlated more with attending a city college, is now being adopted by elite schools, but the negative connotations of attending community college are still present.
“I hate saying ‘community college,’” said Andrew Lee, 19, a student at the Community College of Rhode Island, to The New York Times. “They think I really screwed up.”
Lee graduated from Coventry High School in 2018 and was soon made an offer of attending community college for free which he did not refuse. His plans were to attend Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston.
Lee, who has a 4.0 GPA, is now transferring to a private school to finish his four-year degree.
Lee’s case has become very common since many private and elite schools have made the transferring process much easier for community college students.
In fact, The New York Times reported that Williams College, a private liberal arts school in Massachusetts, enrolled eight community college transfer students this academic year. Last year, the school only enrolled two transfer students.
“There has been a shift in how we think of really talented students from different backgrounds,” said Maud Mandel, the president of Williams College to The New York Times.
Mandel added that groups like the American Talent Initiative, Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and Phi Theta Kappa have been pivotal on identifying academically-gifted students that the school might not have seen.
Hard-working students who come from a less privileged background are becoming more appealing to elite and private schools.
Christina Paxson, the president of Brown University, told The New York Times that community college transfers are not your typical Ivy League student. She added that Brown University and the Community College of Rhode Island are in the works of establishing “a pathway to Brown University.”
But the sake of diversifying elite campuses is not the only reason why elite and private schools are tapping on community college transfers.
Muhlenberg College in Allentown Pa., has had an increasing competition for first-time students. So the administration at the school decided to tap into community college transfers to find more talented and diverse applicants, said Robert Springall, vice president for enrollment management to The New York Times.
The thing is some community college transfers did get to enroll in private and elite campuses by themselves, but now those campuses are making efforts to court them in.
Last year, Muhlenberg College offered a quicker reading of transcripts for two-year school transfers and gave those applicants their own counselors, according to The New York Times.
Other strategies implemented were establishing a $15,000 annual scholarship for Phi Theta Kappa members and admitting community college transfers by March 1st instead of May 1st.
With this new strategy, Muhlenberg College was able to easily enroll two community college transfer last year and 12 this year, according to The New York Times.
But community college transfers enrolling in private and elite schools come with positive benefits for both parties.
A recent study by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation found that students transferring from community colleges to an elite four-year campus graduated at higher rates than students who transferred from four-year schools, which has made community college transfers appeal more to selective four-year colleges. Steps to make the transferring process from a community school to a four-year school much easier have already kicked off.
According to The New York Times, The New England Board of Higher Education will soon group 60 community colleges and private schools to implement “within-state transfer pipelines.”
This is not only happening in Massachusetts, but it already did in California with community colleges establishing transferring pipelines with 36 in-state private colleges.
“We have to create more different pathways,” said Judy Olian, the president of Quinnipiac to The New York Times. “There are whole segments of society that can’t just pick up for four years and head off to this great environment.”
Last July, Quinnipiac University signed an agreement with two community colleges where it allowed students from both schools to take three classes for free, get a Quinnipiac ID and join campus clubs.