An Ode to Community College

James King Uncategorized

SHARE THIS STORY: Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+

“Bragging rights,” I assured him.

A colleague and I were walking to our cars discussing all of the letters of recommendation that we had written this year for “prestigious” schools. “Why are people applying to be in debt at these private schools to study history?” he asked.

“Bragging rights,” I said.

It isn’t that the student wants to go into debt, or travel away. It is that there’s a certain type of student who needs people to know they could go to that school if they wanted.

In the end, most of our college-bound graduates will end up in-state. But they will always be able to tell their peers that they could have done something “more.”

And while I wouldn’t want to take anything away from the valuable experiences any of the prestigious universities have to offer, I have to tell you – not once, not ever has the fact that I got half of my college credits at Valencia Community College adversely affected my life.

To the contrary, my time at community college was a treat. I got to read The Glass Menagerie, I performed a 1 man show of Rumpelstiltskin for college credit, I learned how to use formulas on Microsoft Excel, and had to improve my 9-key speed and proficiency. My favorite college course was an ecology class taught by the most fascinating octogenarian, and my human sexuality class was taught by a retired drag queen. In comparison to my eventual university, the campus was smaller, the classes were smaller, and the food in the dining hall was cheaper. Oh, and the classes were also cheap– I could pay as I went off my 40 hour work week.

As a driven student who was obsessed with bragging rights and collecting awards and titles in high school, community college did not seem like a path I would have taken. In retrospect, my teenage self definitely looked down on community colleges. I too spent frivolous nights applying to out-of-state and prestigious schools just to tell my friends about it. I would consciously try to not sound condescending when talking to classmates choosing a community college.

After unpredictable, and less-than-smooth few years post high school, I really had to humble myself and take some time to mature. Valencia Community College was a refuge, and one I would recommend to anyone.

My students hear my community college story. I try to erase any stigma attached to community colleges. Advice seekers learn about the benefits of a community college experience.

The desire to attend a 4 year university stems from many factors not in our control as educators. From media depictions, to family traditions, and the construct that somehow acceptance to a school measures self-worth, it’s an up-hill battle to attempt to persuade many driven students.

This is not to say that we need to persuade an optimistic, confident student to derail their goals. But, I do wonder if more positive depictions of community colleges could help students in the long run. Minimizing debt, giving students a less daunting, and safer environment, strengthening local communities and economies — the benefits are numerous.

The college admission industrial complex has a grip on some students, and for many, its the circus and the spectacle that make them care. So while many may end up at state colleges, I do wonder, if they only landed there because the prestige of a private and far-away school seemed unrealistic. None of this circus is necessary. A great future is in store for all our educated and driven students — they simply need to flourish where they land.

So, I proudly hang my Valencia Community College Pennant in my classroom… “For bragging rights.”


James King is a high school teacher in Glendale Union High School District. He is the newspaper advisor, speech and debate coach and teaches AP English Language and Composition as well as Journalism. James is a graduate of the University of Central Florida. In his time in Florida, he worked as a substitute teacher for 5 years while simultaneously working in corporate training. In his free time, James enjoys reading, musical theatre, sand volleyball, comic books, and often-vapid reality TV programs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *