5 Community College Myths Debunked – By a Student Who’s Been There!

While the reputation and perception of community colleges are finally improving after years of advocacy, myths and stigma still abound. Let’s set the record straight and debunk some of them from one of the most credible sources available – a student currently living it.

young college student gets guidance from a couple of tutors or instructors

When I first started attending Coastline College, I had no idea how deep the stigmas and stereotypes attached to community colleges actually went. I heard jokes where ‘community college’ was usually said with an inflection of distaste or disapproval, but I thought it was something we all rolled our eyes at; where students choose to attend college can’t be that serious, can it? Maybe it comes from living in California, whose community college system is the largest system of higher education in the country, or being raised in a family where community college was a normal choice, but I always viewed it as any other school-going experience. To me, school is school, no matter the avenue, and people shouldn’t be shamed for or ashamed of the avenue they choose.

It wasn’t until I saw a TikTok of a student talking about how embarrassed they felt to be attending community college that I saw the full scope of the negative connotations attached to the institution.

With concerns over the social optics of attending a community college and the fear of being quietly regarded as a letdown to your family and friends, many students have opted out of going to community college, even if they felt like it would be a better option for them academically and financially because attending a university just looks better.

However, as we all know, looks aren’t everything, and they definitely shouldn’t become a hindrance when picking a college that fits our current needs and goals! With more schools providing online classes (thanks to the pandemic lock downs), the stigma around community colleges has decreased, and more students have enrolled, but there are still some myths that are sticking – so let’s set the record straight.

three diverse young college students talk while walking on campus

Myth #1: Community Colleges are Inferior to 4-year Universities

This is the major one, but it’s all about perspective, isn’t it? Many college students will opt to live at home and attend community college to save money while their friends go away to college. For many, it can feel isolating and due to the negative stereotyping of CCs, slightly embarrassing.

CCs have garnered reputations for being schools for the unmotivated student, being an extension of high school, and having an ‘easier’ curriculum, rendering the education non-viable, but a lot of these beliefs stem from the elitism rooted in comparisons of CCs and universities, which isn’t fair to the schools or the students attending. CC professors hold master's and doctorates just as university professors do, and the curriculum is just as academically challenging as they are at a university level.

In addition, there are numerous benefits for students attending community college such as smaller class sizes that allow for accessible academic support between students and professors, dissimilar from the large class sizes often seen in universities that prevent students from connecting with their professors. Flexible class schedules with online options are available for students who are working or have other responsibilities outside of school, and career-focused approaches are provided to prepare students for life after graduation.

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Myth #2: Not A Quality Education Because of Cost

It’s no secret that when comparing prices between community colleges and universities, CCs stand as the more affordable option. The average cost for in-state tuition in California is $1,246 and compared to USC and CSU costs of $14,640 and $5,742, respectively, this is a large cost difference. Does low cost mean low-quality education? Is it a ‘you get what you pay for situation’?

No! Of course, the experience varies from college to college, but writing off all community colleges due to the stereotype of low cost = low quality can prevent students from finding a school conducive to their success. Many students who attend universities find themselves deep in the throes of debt and student loans after graduation and are unprepared for life post-grad.

As day-to-day expenses grow more costly, and as students begin to tally the cost of tuition, books, and other supplies into their budget, community college is looking like a more feasible option for students in a job market that is feeling harder and harder to break into.

Providing support and resources to students with different priorities or academic goals is not synonymous with inferiority, and needing help doesn’t make you any less of a college student!

instructor speaks to a small college class standing at a lecturn in front of a white board

Myth #3: Associate’s Degrees Are Pointless

Not even a little bit! I like to think of AAs as stepping stones. If you don’t have time to commit to a bachelor’s degree, or your GPA isn’t quite where it needs to be to attend a university, an AA can help you raise your GPA and get the credits you need to transfer to a four-year university.

It is also important to note that you don’t have to transfer to a 4-year after getting an AA, or even know if you want to yet! At Coastline, there are AA options designed for those who may or may not be planning to transfer. Having an AA can also give you a leg up as you enter the workforce, and according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected growth for occupations that require associate’s degrees at entry level will grow by 5.7% over the next ten years.

With this, California is taking further steps to prepare students for high-paying jobs with Governor Newsom’s newly signed executive order, Freedom to Succeed, which expands career and skill-building opportunities for students, and removes degree barriers for jobs, making AA degrees a minimum job requirement as opposed to bachelor degrees.

Though the timeframe to obtain an AA is shorter than obtaining a bachelor’s degree, this doesn’t mean the degree’s value is diminished or makes it any less of a ‘real’ degree—Don’t forget that!

two happy college graduates take a selfie together while holding their diplomas

Myth #4: Associate’s Degrees are All CCs offer

AAs are the most widely known offering of community colleges, but it’s not all they have. Many community colleges, including Coastline, offer certification programs that are designed to help students who might not have the time to commit to a two-year degree but want to jumpstart or progress in their careers.

In addition to accredited certifications, Coastline offers non-credit certificates which provide students with the flexibility to test the waters and decide if they want to delve deeper into a college education! Some community colleges also offer Baccalaureate Degree Programs for students who don’t have the time or the finances to go through a 4-year Bachelor’s degree program, and 72% of students in these programs have reported not having to take out a student loan for financial support.

Aside from academics, community colleges offer a wide range of opportunities for students to constantly improve upon their skills through academic and job opportunities that push them out of their comfort zone.

As an example of being pushed out of my extremely comfortable comfort zone, I had the opportunity to intern in my college’s marketing department, and gained an abundance of valuable skills such as time management as I juggled classes and deadlines at the internship, and honed my writing skills as I wrote blogs for the college, which has built my portfolio and prepared me for job opportunities after I graduate.


Myth #5: Missing Out on a True College Experience

There are disparities between experiences at CCs compared to universities. For one, community colleges don’t typically have student housing, which means no Greek life like universities.

However, even with the lack of Greek life, CCs have endeavored to make student life engaging. Coastline has clubs like Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society and National English Honors Society, student government, movie nights on campus, gatherings over Zoom, and other on-campus gatherings like Welcome Week during the first week of school to keep students involved and engaged.

Additionally, community colleges are home to a diverse range of students. For example, you’ll meet a wide variety of people of all ages, and from all walks of life, and you’ll get a chance to connect with people within your community who you may not have ever known existed.

And who knows, with more community colleges providing on-campus housing, Greek life could come to community colleges sooner than we think!

However, I completely get the pull and attraction of Greek life, and if you still want this aspect of the university experience, you can transfer after you finish community college! In fact, it’s typically easier to get into the university you wanted to attend before community college because you have other academics to show outside of college placement tests like the SAT or ACT.

Additionally, maintaining a strong GPA throughout your community college attendance can result in competitive transfer scholarships that can aid in paying for the costs and fees of a university.

But one of the best and most advantageous parts about community college, one that has saved me 4 years of stress and internal turmoil, is having the freedom, time, and support to figure out what you want to study, and where your true interests lie before you transfer to a 4-year institution, instead of trying to figure it out while you're there.

four diverse college students work together on a project

A Few Closing Words

The point of this blog isn’t to try to convert you, or to bash 4-year institutions, or make community colleges seem better than universities. The point is to show that community colleges are just as viable of a choice as universities are. They serve as powerful tools in our communities that provide an accessible, affordable, and equitable education to all because everyone deserves the chance at a college education, and there should never be shame attached to that.

Going to a community college doesn’t mean you’ve ‘failed’, and making education choices based on how it looks to others won’t get you very far—trust me, you’ll end up miserable that way. Taking the elitism and shame out of the choice to attend community college is imperative. Whether you’re at a 4-year or a 2-year, every student shares one common goal: learning! Your education is completely up to you, and choosing an option that feels right for where you’re at in life will make all the difference in your journey!

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