No matter how often they’re killed, they just won’t stay dead: Dracula, Jason, Leatherface, Freddie Krueger and the notion that community colleges are somehow not “real.”
“What?” South Campus English Department Chair Sandi Hubnik asked in wonder. “Are people still saying that?”
Just ask Jasmin Moreno. When she said at a family dinner celebrating her high school graduation that she planned to go to TCC, a female relative attending a private university said, “Aren’t you going to a real college?”
Moreno, a first-year student at the South Campus, is hardly alone. When 22 members of her class were asked if they had ever been victim to a community college putdown, 10 raised their hands.
Moreno did not suffer in silence. “I told her that her school is a college and my school is a college,” she said.
When she told me I was kind of stupid for going to community college, I said, ‘You learn the same things during the first two years, right?’
Besides, she added, TCC seemed more welcoming than she imagined a university would be. “It had that kind of family vibe you want to get.”
Moreno is not the only one to turn such a slur on its head. “Do I think there’s still a stigma?” said Martha Parham, senior vice president for public relations at American Association of Community Colleges. “Sure, but we use it as an opportunity to educate people about what community colleges can do for them.”
Elva LeBlanc, president of TCC Northwest Campus, employs the same strategy. “I listen to what the person is saying and figure out what the person is wanting and needing” she said. “I then respond with how the Northwest Campus can help him or her get there. We use the appreciative model in order to turn a negative into a positive.”
Nevertheless, community colleges still find it necessary to explain themselves. This perceived lack of respect prompted The Hechinger Report’s Jon Marcus to dub them “the Rodney Dangerfields of American higher education.”
So what factors play into this? People, out of either ignorance or snobbishness, seem to think community colleges are not “real” because:
“Anyone can get in.”
Pretty much true. If you have graduated from high school, and sometimes even if you have not, you can be admitted to TCC. Accessibility has been a cornerstone of community colleges for more than a century. Those who find themselves, often through no fault of their own, unprepared for college level coursework have a chance to catch up.
Others may be prepared academically, but are not sure what they want or how to find it. “So many of our students are candles in the wind,” LeBlanc said. “We devote a lot of time to asking them what their goals are and telling them how we can help achieve them.”
That was the experience of Chassidy Dunn, one of Moreno’s classmates. “People don’t understand that TCC can give you the same experience as a university and also help you decide what,” she said. “I had to sit down with a success coach, who went over everything with me. Now I know I want to get a bachelor’s degree in fashion.”
“Their graduation rates are terrible.”
No, they are just not as high as those of universities, which can admit only students with a high probability of success. Community colleges have open door policies, and through those doors come students with wide ranges of abilities and perseverance levels. Some students make it, but many do not, despite all the assistance provided. Getting into a community college may be easy, but getting out—with a degree or certificate—may be another story.
The U.S. Department of Education reports that only 20 percent of community college students graduate within three years of enrollment. But consider that 60 percent of them work half- or full-time and many are married with children. Consider also that many students have no intention
of graduating. Their plan may be to attend only for one year before going on to a university. Or they may be interested in only a few courses out of a desire to learn Spanish or how to fix a carburetor.
“Nothing that inexpensive can be high in quality.”
Community colleges prefer “affordable” to “inexpensive,” but their costs are, indeed, far lower than those at universities. The non-profit College for All Texans Foundation lists the average tuition and fees for two semesters of 15 semester hours at a public community college in 2016-2017 as $2,587. That compares with $8,686 at public universities and $27,518 at private universities. The cost for In-District TCC students is $1,770, or $59 per semester hour.
Cost thus becomes a huge factor in drawing students, many of high academic ability. That is how it was for David Clinkscale, a now-retired TCC government professor who came as a student in 1967, the College’s first year. “Obviously the monetary savings were significant,” he said. “Even paying out-of-county tuition, as I had to do (living in Johnson County), tuition was $6 an hour. Of course, that was a time at which the minimum wage was, I think, $1.25 an hour. But still, compared to a four-year school, it was a huge, huge bargain.”
For Claudia Jackson, who graduated in the 1970s and is now a senior administrator at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, there was no other choice. “When I was asked why I was going to (then) TCJC, my answer was that I was being raised by a single mom and, even with tuition as low as it was, needed a scholarship to make it,” she said. “I needed a foothold somewhere, and TCJC was it.”
Community colleges are affordable because their communities have chosen to make the investment. State appropriations now cover less than 20 percent of TCC’s annual budget, but the citizens of Tarrant County have shouldered the load and will pay TCC taxes of more than $200 million for fiscal year 2016, second in the state only to Dallas County.
“The courses don’t transfer.”
Some do not, but that is more often the fault of the student than the College. No, a technical program course at TCC likely will not transfer to a bachelor’s program at The University of Texas at Arlington. That is why students are encouraged – repeatedly – to know to which academic program in which university they want to transfer and to check, both with TCC’s counselors and the university, to ensure a smooth transition, especially when transferring to a private university.
Every single semester hour I had at TCJC transferred to Southwest Texas State. That, to me, means it’s a real college.
“Community colleges do not prepare you for good jobs.”
Try telling that to alumni who have used TCC as a springboard to bachelor’s, graduate and professional degrees. Or to those who have graduated from technical programs such as nursing; heating, air conditioning and refrigeration; automotive or aviation technology and moved directly into careers with starting salaries of more than $60,000.
But even though there are good answers to the derogatory claims, community college adherents are understandably frustrated by what amounts to an endless game of Whack-A-Mole, countering such assertions only to see them pop up over and over. “I’ve devoted a good part of my career to battling this idea,” Jackson said after a session trying to convince local legislators that non-credit technical education is, indeed, enrollment.
She and her colleagues can find solace, however, in the knowledge that what they do on a daily basis vastly improves the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and their respective communities across the country.
“Community colleges are more real and relevant than ever,” TCC Chancellor Eugene Giovannini said.
Emergency medical technicians, police, firefighters, phlebotomists—just to name a few —are trained and credentialed at community colleges. These are real degrees, granted by real colleges, which prepare graduates for careers and immediate entry into the workforce. The education and training provided by community colleges is integral to our day-to-day lives.