The Washington Post
Spotlight on Community Colleges
By Jay Mathews
Tuesday, July 5, 2005; 11:06 AM
Karen Davis grew
up poor in
"Six years later," she said, "we had a son and two years later I was divorced, without child support and a teacher's aide job that paid $3.30 an hour."
There was, however, hope for her, at
Southern State Community College in
In the narrow, somewhat goofy way we self-important journalists define news, there wasn't much to report in this deluge of heartfelt messages. Community college are not getting as much funding as they need, but that is true for many worthy government endeavors. Connections with four-year colleges could be better. Students need more support.
But those emails
revealed something that I think is worth front page treatment. Community
colleges are having an extraordinary effect on American lives, rescuing people
"I learned a lot during hallway conversations with professors," she said. "At the four-year institution that conversational style of learning did not take place. That kind of true personal interest in me did not take place."
In my earlier column, I described U.S. Education Department senior researcher Clifford Adelman's new report on community colleges, with a new nomenclature of four-year drop-ins (regular college students who take community college courses in the summer), swirlers (students who go back and forth between four-year and two-year schools) and reverse transfers (students who start in four-year schools but move to two-year programs.) Many emailers saw themselves in those categories, plus some that Adelman had not mentioned.
Anna Howe said she got a degree from the University of California-Santa Cruz in a subject that quickly lost her interest, so she decided to pursue her love of architecture at a community college. She found an architectural drafting class full of students who were "making their own way, working nights, odd jobs, getting loans, all with the dream of being an architect."
Emily Sommer said she was a classic reverse transfer. She started
Henry B. Villareal, dean of enrollment services at the
Spotlight on Community Colleges
Anderson was admitted to both the
* Victor P. Zabielski, assistant professor of geology at
* Christopher McNally, a tenured associate professor of automotive technologies at a community college in New York, warned me not to overlook the two-year students who are getting vocational degrees and have no use for a four-year school. "I have many twenty-something former students with annual salaries far exceeding my own," he said.
* Teresa Monroe
As I said in my
first column, it is hard to overlook the vibrancy of two-year schools, even if
they are ignored by elitist columnists like me. I was happy see one emailer confess the same fault. This was Clifton Truman
Daniel, the public relations director for a community college in
Daniel said he used to be a reporter and also ignored community colleges as uninteresting. Now he wonders why he ever felt that way. At Truman College, he said, "I like walking down the hall and hearing every language but English (more than 56 are spoken here) and I like the fact that most people don't look or dress like me (students come from more than 144 countries). Most of all, I like the sense of optimism, of hope and possibilities. I know that exists at four-year schools, too, but here it's different, more deeply felt. The opportunity to obtain an education is viewed as a gift."
That is the way that single mother, Karen Davis, sees it, 19 years after she got her associate's degree at Southern State Community College. It was a hard time, particularly when she went to a four-year school, and beyond. "My father did not speak to me for several years during and after obtaining my master's degree," she said. He told her she was getting "above my raising" and becoming an "educated idiot."
attitudes will not survive into the next generation. The son she had to raise
on her own also started college at Southern State, and he is now at
"I see it," she said, "as my way of repaying society for providing me with the financial aid and convenient, affordable, quality education provided to me through the humble beginnings of the community college."