Community College: The Forgotten Gift

By Olivia Merrick

With college decision day right around the corner, it’s become easier than ever to compare yourself to the rest of your classmates. Every time I see a committed post, I immediately turn to the internet, researching the acceptance rate and statistics of the school my peers are attending. It’s a toxic and vicious cycle, but one that has become completely ingrained in the minds of all students, particularly those in the Bay Area.

For years, we’ve been told that the only “acceptable” option in furthering our education is attending a UC, or maybe a CSU, but certainly, a college with a low acceptance rate and ridiculously high statistic requirements is the only place to end up at. But this year, things have taken a sharp turn. Westmont, and most California, students were rejected and waitlisted from UCs and CSUs at staggeringly high rates. There is nothing worse than spending four years working to attend a school that’s deemed as “good”, and then being forced to take a different path for any reason, especially if that path contains the one thing we’ve been taught is “bad”: community college. But what started this idea in the first place?

I asked a handful of my peers about what they think the root of the stigma regarding community college is, and the majority agreed that we’re raised to believe that going to community college means that we are somehow lesser than our peers. With West Valley mere streets away from our campus, it’s easy to view it as an extension of high school, a place where all of the people who are not “smart enough” wind up. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

One of the most memorable conversations I ever had in high school was during my sophomore year, when one of my close friends told me that she was planning on going to community college, and then transferring to the competitive college her mom taught at. She explained that she wouldn’t have to spend nearly any money and she would get time to figure out what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.  

That was the first time I had ever spoken with someone whose plan, from the very beginning of their high school career, was to attend community college, and the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. The total tuition cost for four years at UCLA is 52k, and that’s not even including room and board, meal plans, books, etc. And if you aren’t sure what you want to do with your future, does it really make sense to spend almost fifteen thousand dollars a year to try and find your path when you could spend a fraction of that at a community college?
I completely understand the argument of wanting a change of scenery. As someone who will be spending the next four years of my life out of state, the drive to get away from San Jose is something I know all too well. But with 942 community colleges in the United States, finding one outside of our immediate community is beyond achievable. Schools like Foothill College and Santa Barbara City College are perfect places for students looking for a change of scenery, and are still much more affordable than a four year college.

And of course, transfer acceptance rates are significantly higher than freshman acceptance rates. One of the schools that Westmont students seem to love the most is UC Santa Barbara, which had a 29.6% acceptance rate of freshman applicants in 2020, and a 56.6% acceptance rate for transfer students that same year. Choosing to go to community college, finding your niche, and then transferring to a school you love is significantly more feasible than just going to your elite, dream school immediately out of high school, with no idea of what you truly want to do.

The truth is painfully obvious: community college is the perfect option for hundreds of thousands of students. So how do we start changing the attitude regarding higher education?