Fighting a Stigma: Why people go to community college first


Kernel Opinion SIG

I grew up in a farming town of around 700 people, and not many of them ever left. This was a town on the outskirts of Kentucky, far from what some may consider “prominent” educational opportunities or good jobs.

For as long as I could remember, there was a UK Cooperative Extension Service right on the outskirts of town, and that’s why I dreamed of coming to UK. I felt that in so many ways my little rural town was invisible to the world, but I also felt that UK was invested in even the most remote places in our state. I felt like it saw me. But from where I grew up, Lexington was a faraway dream that seemed impossible to reach.

As a first-generation female student who grew up in a farming community, economic strain was against me. I had great grades out of high school and could have gotten into great schools, if I could have afforded to get there or to pay tuition.

I did what most everyone from my town did: I went to the community college an hour away from home. I could afford it while working full time and I could get to and from school while building a name for myself in the academic world, making connections and saving money for university.

I loved my two years at community college. I met brilliant professors who were so dedicated to my success and who worked hard to see me succeed. At the time, I was shocked over why they chose to teach at a community college and forego the prestige of teaching at a university. After all, they had the same degrees and same experiences. Now I see why they did it and continue to do it. They are the unsung heroes who are bringing quality education to the corners of every state. They’re making a tangible difference in people’s lives. They’re teaching people who are outcasts in the world of academia. I’ll never forget their dedication and contributions to my success.

During my time in community college, I was honored to serve as the vice president for my school’s chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, a prestigious international honors society. This opportunity opened doors for great networking, leadership skills and wonderful scholarships that would allow me to finally transfer and get a bachelor’s degree. When I graduated, I was one of few who had maintained a 4.0 grade point average.

My story is not unlike many people’s stories who grew up in rural Kentucky and rural America, so much so that I didn’t prepare myself for the hostility some people have toward community college. When I finally got to UK, some students were curious, and some were envious of the financial advantages I had at community college. Many other faculty and students appeared to have a negative perspective of community college, such as the idea that the coursework was easier, or a person’s IQ must have been under par.

I have come to see there is a stigma against community colleges that is truly unfounded. There is a stereotype that if you attend community college, perhaps you did not have good grades in high school and needed a fresh start. This may be the case for some, and if so, it is wonderful that they have that opportunity. But for many people, the decision to attend community college before university is for financial reasons, to have better one-on-one attention from teachers or to establish a basis for an academic career thanks to being the first in the family to pursue higher education.

For UK transfer students to truly feel apart of the Wildcat community, professors, advisers, mentors, students and ambassadors need to be better and more thoroughly educated on what it means to be a transfer student. We are blessed in Kentucky with the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS), a system that truly provides high quality education and a base for students to build their academic journeys upon.

We must come together as a campus community and support each person who chooses to call UK home. Each of us have different stories and different ways we got here. But if we want a healthy campus, we need to break the stigma surrounding transfer students and recognize that community college is a perfectly adequate and excellent launching pad for a bachelor’s degree.