Community College: Access to Opportunities
I was raised in the working-class and predominantly minority community of East Palo Alto, California, where less than nine percent of residents hold a college degree. Next door is Palo Alto, home to Stanford University, and in comparison, a land of copious opportunities and resources for its residents as it pertains to education. By random luck, I was selected as one of sixty children accepted into a voluntary transfer program that bused students from my neighborhood into Palo Alto to attend the superior and well-resourced schools.
My high school is uniquely situated in Silicon Valley, located directly across the street from Stanford. As such, my well-resourced predominantly white high school successfully prepares its graduates to go onto matriculate to four-year colleges of high caliber and prestige, including UC Berkeley and University of Michigan, institutions I never dreamed I could be an alum of. There was little discussion of community college other than as a place to make up grades for classes one had failed. Community college was presented as an option for those who were not cut out for four-year colleges, which given the context of my school translated to mean students of color. Dead-set on not fulfilling any stereotypes, I matriculated to a four-year institution despite it not being the best fit for me financially, academically, or in regard to diversity. After one semester at the institution, I dropped out and returned home only to end up right where I tried so hard to avoid, community college. Little did I know it would be the catalyst to my academic success.
While at community college, (shoutout to Cañada College), I experienced a number of academic firsts. I found myself enjoying classes, took my first class with an instructor that had my complexion, making the Dean’s list, and most significantly, beginning to see myself as a scholar. I excelled in my coursework and not because it was watered down, rather, because I had instructors who truly believed in me and mentored me and provided me opportunities to build my academic confidence. I had two professors who were mentors to me. They instilled in me the belief that I was worthy of attending an elite institution, that I was academically capable of succeeding at an advanced level, and that I could and should pursue a graduate degree once I obtained my bachelor's. They not only mentored me through their words but also through their actions. They each hired me as a subject tutor and teaching assistant for their courses, entrusting me with mentoring my peers, and equipping me with tangible work experiences and skills in academia, and writing my letters of recommendation for both undergrad and graduate applications.
Two years at community college transformed my life. Today, I hold degrees with honors from elite institutions, U.C. Berkeley (‘12), and the University of Michigan (‘17) which would not have been possible without community college. My community college provided me with access to quality higher education, lifelong mentors, a passion and excitement for learning, confidence in my academic abilities, and a chance to pursue postsecondary degrees at two of the nation’s most outstanding public institutions.
For those of you considering community college, do not underestimate the opportunities available at two-year institutions. Here are just a few benefits. First, consider the savings! Depending on where you live, community college can be free or relatively inexpensive. I am still paying off a student loan from my one semester at my first institution, whereas at my community college, my was tuition covered and I was even able to work and save money for my undergraduate degree. Second, instructors are accessible! Common advice is to get yourself a mentor, which can be daunting for first-generation or underrepresented students. However, at community colleges, instructors care about students as they are there to teach, not to do research. And third, find your academic strengths and passions! Community colleges are great because they allow you to explore your interests without major financial consequence and provide you the space to find your inner scholar. With a supportive instruction staff and community, you can find the support you need to gain serious academic confidence in yourself. If you apply yourself and take advantage of the resources and staff at community colleges, you can go anywhere.
Writer’s note: not all community colleges are equally funded or resourced. Just like with a four-year institution, do your research and find the community college that best fits your needs and goals. Check out what academic, financial, and personal resources and centers are available and which four-year institutions your prospective community college has Transfer Agreements with.
Monique is a proud Bay Area native from East Palo Alto, California. Her life’s mission is to expand opportunities in higher education for underrepresented students and support them as they pursue their educational goals. Currently, Monique serves as a Program Coordinator for the Diversity, Outreach, and STEM unit at Stanford Pre-Collegiate Studies at Stanford University.
Monique Educational History:
2007 - HS Graduate, Palo Alto Unified School District
2012 - BA in history & BA in sociology, University of California, Berkeley
2017 - MA in higher education (Student Access and Success), University of Michigan