Essay, Research Paper: Community College


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Through the years, community colleges have always had a negative stigma attached
to its name. Even today, this negative stigma is still present. However, the
misconception of an undergraduate curriculum from a junior college is inferior
to an undergraduate curriculum from a university is becoming widely accepted.
The popular notion that people foresee in a community college is that it is
mainly a place for those people who did not possess the knowledge to attend a
four-year university. This, however, is a big assumption towards some of the
students that attend community colleges because many people enter into a
community college for many different reasons. One reason, for example, people
attend a community college first is the financial disadvantage many people have;
therefore, it seems that going to a community college is their only choice. The
price for a general education in a community college is significantly lower than
that of a general education in a university. Because of the lower costs, the
possibility to receive a quality education or trade comes into reach for
everyone who is financially challenged or hasn't made a career choice. Despite
the negative misconceptions of junior colleges, they bridge the gap between high
schools and universities and create opportunities for more of the United States
population to achieve higher education. Understanding the need to establish a
college, of which, provides an opportunity for the United States population to
achieve a higher level of education, William Rainey Harper, the first president
at the University of Chicago, created the first junior college in the year of
1892. He did this by dividing the university into two different parts; one was
called the upper division and the other called the lower division. The upper
divisions were known as the “Senior Colleges” while the lower divisions as
the “Academic Colleges” (Witt et al. 14). Harper wanted these two separate
colleges to focus on the different levels of training; primarily, the “Senior
Colleges” was to focus more on the advanced courses while the “Academic
Colleges” focused more on the less advanced courses. Harper also envisioned
that a two-year school would soon stand on its own; however, it would still be
affiliated with the university. Junior colleges, also mostly known and referred
today as a community college, were first thought about because educators began
to realize that students needed more educational opportunities after high
school. The idea of these smaller colleges came about because educators saw that
a lot of students were not able to go away to a four-year college after high
school and they also saw that extending high schools for two more years could
never happen (Brick 8). Although Harper was highly associated with these ideas
in the creation of a two-year institution, he was not the only one involved with
them. Alexis F. Lange, Dean of the School of Education at the University of
California, also wanted to encourage students to further their education. Lange
realized that there were a lot of students that did not need, nor want, to go on
to a four-year college and he felt that community colleges should focus more on
providing vocational preparation. Thus, he urged college administrators to
prevent the “wrong persons” from attempting to fulfill transfer requirements
when these courses would only hurt them instead of help them. Lange proposed
that community colleges should prepare students to be active and effective in
community life. As more people became aware of the many benefits that a
community college would offer a student, the creation of such an idea was
inevitable to stop. The first actual junior college was Lewis Institute in
Chicago and was established in 1896. Since then, hundreds of junior colleges
have been established throughout the United States, with most of them being
affiliated with a major university. This also made it easier for students to
transfer to upper levels of education. To date, there are 106 junior colleges in
the state of California, of which, San Diego encompasses a good portion of them
(Mesa 1). These include City, Mesa, and Miramar community college. As of yet,
Mesa community college is one of the most prestigious of these colleges. The
notion of establishing a San Diego community college was in 1914 when the Board
of Education authorized a decision to bring the many benefits of a community
college into San Diego. In 1916, the first real community college classes were
held in the classrooms of San Diego High School, but later moved into its own
facility. Having only 4 faculty members and 35 students, classes were relatively
small with little benefits given to the students. This, of which, is
understandable because of the fact that the class size was so small. In 1939,
San Diego Community College provided college classes in the evening; as a
result, this would allow adults who are unable to attend classes in the day to
attend classes in the evening. Allowing classes in the evening greatly increased
the number of adults returning to college to further their education. It also
greatly diversified the environmental factors in the community college. In 1964,
San Diego Mesa Community College was opened to students and provided a 1,800
capacity limit at that time. Five years later, San Diego Miramar Community
College was opened. Although Miramar College only emphasized vocational
education, it later on changed their curricula to provide areas in general
education. With these three community colleges greatly emphasizing curricula in
general education, the goal intended for a community college to possess was
fulfilled. In 1972, San Diego community colleges became its own district when
the voters decided that these community colleges would beneficially provide
better services to the students if it were to become its own district. Being
separated from the San Diego Unified School District has changed the way the
curriculum was run and also provided new services and programs to their
students. As seen through the years, community colleges have greatly increased
in size, the average number of attending students go up to the thousands in size
each year, providing better benefits in higher levels of education for those who
want it. Along with the benefits of attending a junior college, there are some
negative aspects associated with it as well. The most striking negative aspect
is the notion that junior college is inferior to four-year universities.
Unfortunately, this opinion is held by many in our society ranging from
journalists to students who attend junior colleges. By many, junior colleges are
viewed as “high school with ashtrays” or “… places you went if you
couldn’t get in anywhere else, couldn’t afford anywhere else or didn’t
know better” (Featherstone 87). Yet for some, a junior college is a last
resort for students who were unable to attend a university, but this does not
represent every student at a junior college. This assumption causes apprehension
and embarrassment to the students who attend junior colleges for reasons other
than the “last resort”. Junior colleges allow anyone to attend which gives
everyone a chance to further their education. Since anyone can attend, another
assumption arises. It is thought that junior college students are lazy or lack
the knowledge to attend a four-year university. Yet junior college have become a
primary bridge leading students into four-year universities. Thus, junior
colleges are adequately preparing students to compete at a university level. The
increase in tuition and competition are causing many students to choose junior
colleges over universities. Junior college offers many students a cheap
alternative to equivalent expensive university classes. They are not wasting
their money on required classes that have little impact on their major. These
students who are attending junior college to complete the general education
requirements are making wise monetary decisions. At any level, junior college or
university, a student must be serious about learning to achieve an education.
Thus it takes more than wise educational decisions to create a successful
student. Yet the stigma attached to junior colleges is a notion students learn
to accept. Community colleges are different from other colleges and universities
in many ways. The tuition fees are the most noticeable difference. Unlike
universities, community colleges are lower in cost and size. The cost of
attending a university could mean paying more than $10,000 a year. The fact is
that many students wanting to attend a university are not able to afford that
amount of money. Some are forced to rely on a second job or find some type of
financial aid to help assist them for the expenditures. At a community college
you can get the similar courses you would get at a university for a much lower
price. Not only is it lower in cost but the population of students compared to a
university is much smaller. There are a number of students who are not able to
take the courses they want due to the fact that the classes they choose are
overcrowded with students. In community colleges, classrooms are not as
overpopulated therefore enabling more students into the course. In California,
community colleges have a low cost per unit. Each student is required to pay
$12.00 per unit, and typically a course is between three and five units. Twelve
units per semester are considered full-time, which means a full-time community
college student pays only $144.00 for their courses. This equates to $288.00 per
academic year. This is significantly inexpensive compared with fees from other
colleges and universities. State funded schools are typically less expensive
than private universities. In San Diego, both San Diego State University (SDSU)
and University of California San Diego (UCSD) are state funded. SDSU charges its
students two different rates. These rates are based on the amount of units the
student takes in a semester. A student taking less than six units pay $618.00
per semester, whereas the student who takes more than six units pay $950.00. A
full-time student pays $1900.00 per year to attend SDSU (Emanski 319).
Subsequently, UCSD has a different payment philosophy. They believe all students
should be full-time, therefore all tuition fees are relatively equal. UCSD bases
its academic calendar on the quarter system rather than the semester. This means
per quarter, students at UCSD spend $1400.00 on their courses, which amounts to
$4200.00 per year. Yet this is also relatively inexpensive when compared with
private universities (329). Private universities, such as University of San
Diego (USD) and Point Loma Nazarene, are very costly. They do not receive
financial support from California therefore their revenues are created directly
from the student's tuition. Courses at USD are $510.00 per unit, which means
full-time students pay $6120.00 per semester and $12,240.00 per year (333). The
tuition is practically mirrored at Point Loma Nazarene (316). There are other
cost considerations such as books, supplies and parking permits, which have not
been equated into their tuition costs. These other expenses will further
increase the cost of attending college. Yet cost is not the only difference
between universities and colleges. Each school offers a limited range of
degrees. These degrees can range from Associates degrees (A.A., A.S.), to
Bachelors degrees (B.A. or B.S.), to Masters and Ph.D's. Associate degrees are
offered at community colleges. This degree requires roughly two years of course
work, compared with the four to six years for a bachelors. Unfortunately,
community colleges are limited to associates degrees. Yet a community college
allows students to transfer their courses to a university where higher degrees
can be attained. Universities offer bachelors, masters and Ph.D degrees. It is
at these universities where students are exposed, in depth, to their major
(316-333). A student must complete many courses to obtain their degree. Within
these courses, students are exposed to classrooms, laboratories and lecture
halls. Universities are known for having larger class sizes than community
colleges. An introductory lecture's average class size at UCSD is 300, where at
a community college it is usually less than 40. Schools with smaller class sizes
typically have greater success rates usually because instructors are able to
devote more attention to individual students when the class size is small. The
student/teacher ratio is another factor regarding the success of the student. At
SDSU, the ratio is 21:1, whereas the ratio at a community college is closer to
13:1 (316-333). Each of these differences contributes to stereotypes of the
individual schools and the students who attend them. The misconception that the
junior college is a place for the educationally challenged, or that it offers an
inferior education, is complete hogwash. The junior college student will
generally find the level of education to be on par with the four-year colleges.
As we have seen, the community college has become an essential part of the
educational system in our society by being the right step for many different
people with many different circumstances. For some students it provides a
vehicle to transition from high school to the four-year college or university.
For those people that are considering a career change, the community college
provides the opportunity to learn a new skill or trade at an every reasonable
cost. Yet for others, it simple affords the opportunity to continue ones
educational goals, whenever one decides to resume his or her education.
Education is important in life. Had there not been a community college system,
many people would not have realized their educational goals. As research has
shown, without a formal education, most people are less likely to tap their full
earning potential. It is important to look at the positives that the community
college system provides to communities across the nation. If the people who
discredit the community college system would take a deep look into it, they too
would see the great fulfilling value of this institution known as the community

Brick, Michael. Forum and Focus for the Junior College Movement. New York:
Teachers College, 1963. Emanski, Joseph G., ed. Four Year Colleges. New Jersey:
Peterson’s, 1998. Featherstone, Liza. “The Half-Price Diploma.” Rolling
Stone. 797: 87-90. Mesa College 1998-1999 Catalog. San Diego: SDCCD, 1998. Witt,
Allen A., et al. America’s Community Colleges: The First Century. Washington,
D.C.: Community College, 1994.

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