Battling the stigma surrounding community college; dispelling misconceptions about investing in the future



At one time or another, most of us have been guilty of propagating some sort of stigma, either based on race, religion, physical appearance or something as common and petty as a difference in personal interests.

As a community college student, I have experienced a previously unfamiliar prejudice: I’m looked down upon for choosing to start my education at Lane.

I’m not sure at what point “community college” was branded a dirty term, but I’ve found myself red in the face when someone asked me where I go to school. In a room full of university students.

I’m often afraid of telling anyone where I’m pursuing a higher education. Allowing any of them to think that I may not be on their level academically or intellectually is something I will avoid at all costs.

At family gatherings I simply tell everyone that I’m going to school in Eugene, and don’t correct them when they assume I’m a University of Oregon student.

Many of my peers look down on community college as just another high school attended by the unintelligent, the socially inept and the dysfunctional. In high school, we’d look on as the upperclassmen graduated, in our minds separating them into two groups: those who went on to four-year universities, and the slackers who wasted their time moseying their way through junior colleges.

Because of this stigma, I found myself four years removed from high school and unwilling to start my education at a community college. I felt that it was beneath me, and that I’d be better off amassing a pile of debt rather than subjecting myself to the sort of environment I could only assume would be present at a community college. I thought I’d be surrounded by lowlifes and teachers who didn’t care either way what happened to their students.

Compounding my reservations was the fact that traditional four-year colleges seem to have become less like an investment and more like indentured servitude. Including living expenses, the average one-year cost at a university is close to $20,000, whereas community college costs a fraction of this at around $5,000. At the very least, in opting for community college, I’d be getting two years of higher education for less than half of what one year at a university would cost.

Not only is an education becoming a hefty financial burden, but more and more students are graduating into unemployment.

According to a 2010 Washington Post article entitled “Only 27 percent of college grads have a job related to their major,” in America, only 62 percent of college graduates were working in jobs that required a degree, and of those, only 27 percent were working in a field related to the degree they graduated with. I was frightened that an education I couldn’t use would incur more debt than buying a new home.

For these reasons and because I didn’t know what sort of career I wanted, I decided to find the least expensive means of exploring my interests. What I’ve found at Lane is so much more than a cheap opportunity, though.

Almost immediately, my previously held notion of community college disappeared.

I discovered a group of students who are as eager to explore and learn as I am and teachers who are excited to teach and genuinely care about our success and well-being. The environment promotes and fosters my creative nature and there are invaluable resources that are helping to shape a direction for my life. I’ve never been more excited for my future.

As my education continues, I’ll no longer let myself feel anything other than pride for the decisions I’ve made while investing in my future.

When someone gives me a sideways look when I tell them I’m attending Lane Community College, I’ll be sure to fight their stigma and tell them exactly why I couldn’t have made a better choice.