It’s time to get rid of the stigma and stereotype of attending community college

People Post is a space for opinion pieces, letters to the editor and guest submissions from members of the Long Beach community. The following is an op-ed submitted by Chantera Walton, a senior at Long Beach Polytechnic High School and writer for VoiceWaves, where this commentary first appeared. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.

Spring is here and this means for many high school seniors who desire to further their education, it’s time to begin making arrangements to commit to a four-year university. They need to accept financial aid, finish scholarship applications and take out loans.

Thousands of seniors are essentially preparing to be in debt for many years to come.

After a university graduation, the average student loan borrower walks away carrying approximately $37,172 in student debt.

Throughout generations, impressionable minds have been embedded with skepticism regarding community colleges. As a result, hundreds of high school students have dismissed this affordable version of higher education, and the class of 2019 is no exception.

“It’s definitely like a stigma or a stereotype that people have,” said Alaa Shhub, a Career Center counselor at Long Beach Polytechnic High School, adding that places like Long Beach City College are not just schools to go to if you’re not “smart.”

And students about to attend LBCC disagree with that stereotype.

“I don’t know why people think that, but screw them,” Poly senior Eileen Garcia said. “We’re all getting the same education, doesn’t matter if it’s at a community [college] or a university.”

Some students are not sure what they want to do, and LBCC helps students like alumna Elisa Castillo figure it out.

“I would not change my experience for a billion dollars. I grew into adulthood at LBCC, and my experience there has made me the person I am today and is motivating me to be a counselor at a [community college] in the near future,” Castillo said via email. She also said she went to LBCC because she did not feel ready for a four-year university.

Illustration by Crystal Niebla for VoiceWaves.

Students in the Long Beach Unified School District benefit a great deal going to LBCC under the Long Beach Promise, an initiative that ensures high school seniors who enroll in the fall directly after they graduate will have the first two years paid off by the California College Promise Grant and the Long Beach City College Foundation starting in the fall of 2019.

In addition to two years free tuition, the Long Beach Promise offers

  • The chance to transfer to a UC with a 2.5+ GPA or to a Cal State with a 2.0+ GPA
  • Access to a variety of academic coaches, mentors and counselors who are eager to help you succeed academically
  • Priority registration for fall and spring courses
  • Enrollment in a first-year college success course
  • Assistance in your second year at LBCC focusing on career and development and mentoring

Recently, LBCC has launched another program to the Long Beach promise called “The Long Beach Promise 2.0,”  a pathway geared towards students interested in Cal State Long Beach that guarantees admission. Although, this program is strictly selective to 10 majors like psychology, communication studies and business administration, to name a few. The students enrolled in this pathway will have the same benefits as students enrolled in the Long Beach Promise, as well as:

  • Dual advisement from LBCC counselors and CSULB academic advisors
  • Goal clarification and career exploration opportunities
  • A “future student” CSULB ID while attending LBCC, giving LBCC students access to CSULB events, library, select clubs and organizations. (For more information click here.)

“The Long Beach Promise is there to help us reach our goals, and it’s great,” said Garcia. “My family doesn’t have the money to send me off to school, but LBCC is letting me go for free.”

Garcia will be attending LBCC in the fall under the Long Beach Promise 2.0. After she graduates from there, she plans on transferring to CSULB and majoring in criminal justice.

She and other students like her will not be receiving a different education from those attending a university. At a community college, students can complete their general education, which is something they can also complete at a university (if they want to spend more money).

Students can also receive an associate’s degree, a two-year post secondary-degree, from a community college, which is good news because by 2020, approximately 65 percent of jobs in the economy will require at least an associate’s degree.

In addition to LBCC being tuition-free and offering students the opportunity to smoothly transfer to a university, it is also beneficial when it comes to deciding on a career path.

Deciding on a major is difficult for many students because not only does it determine their future income, but also what they will be doing with the rest of their lives.

Shhub explains that many students including herself head straight into a four-year university unsure of what they want to do. Indecisive students change their major and consequently have to stay in college an additional year.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, within three years of initial enrollment, about 30 percent of undergraduates in associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs who had declared a major changed it at least once.

Elisa Castillo said (via email) that she transferred to CSULB after she graduated from LBCC. She also changed her major. At LBCC she majored in nursing and shortly after her transfer to CSULB she changed her major to anthropology.

In the career center, Shhub and the other counselors reaffirm to their students that community college is not “a downgrade school.”

“… At the end of the day, you get a degree, and that is all people will look at.”

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