Breaking the Community College Stereotype

I grew up in a working-class family. Both my mother and father work full-time jobs and have instilled the importance of higher education in me and my sister. After much thought and discussion with my family and college counselors, I came to the conclusion that I could still reach my educational goals at a community college. Not everyone can afford the tuition at a four-year university, and I believe that money should not hold students back from furthering their education.

Additionally, community college students should not feel belittled or looked down upon because they did not transition to a four-year institution directly from high school. I often felt underestimated or undervalued because of my choice to attend a community college, but nonetheless, I persevered and am proud to be a part of the 10 percent transfer rate at my community college who go on to complete a degree from a four-year university. My goal is to break the negative stereotypes that people associate with community colleges.

Southwestern College in Chula Vista is one of 113 community colleges in California. It is the only institute of higher education located in the southern portion of San Diego County, and 70 percent of the college is comprised of Hispanic students. Situated just 10 miles away from the San Ysidro Port of Entry, many students cross the Tijuana border daily to receive an education here in the United States. The college is filled with bilingual students, many of whom are first- generation college students. Because of the bicultural environment, Southwestern College is special. It is not uncommon to have peers who wake up at 5 a.m., walk across the international border from Mexico, catch the 6:30 a.m. trolley, and then hop onto the next bus that takes them directly to Southwestern College, just so they can make their 8 a.m. class on time. This is the routine of many students, and it is because of these students, who show incredible dedication and a passion for learning, that I feel motivated to put the same amount of effort into my own education.

With this mindset, I became actively involved in Southwestern College. Southwestern College’s newspaper, The Sun, is a national, award-winning paper and has been recognized as the top college newspaper in the nation. I decided to join the newspaper staff so I could learn more about writing, interviewing, and acting as a voice within my community. I served as the assistant editor for the sports section while also working in the online, broadcast, and social media sections. I was nominated for, and won, the Student of Distinction Award, a selective award given to only 10 students at the college each year who demonstrate leadership on campus. I obtained a 3.8 GPA and was a student athlete for two years, as a starter on the women’s soccer team. I interviewed governing board members, attended newspaper competitions, won awards for my articles and video-packages, but most importantly, I transferred to a university.

After three amazing, memorable years at the community college, I graduated with honors from Southwestern and was admitted to San Diego State University. Next year, I will be graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in public relations and a minor in political science. I had an easy transition to San Diego State, because I felt prepared after having three years of college under my belt from Southwestern. It also feels great knowing I will be leaving college debt-free, having taken out no loans. I used community college as my launching pad. I took advantage of the resources on campus, joined the nationally-awarded newspaper staff, received academic awards, and fully prepared myself both mentally and professionally for San Diego State. If you stay focused and believe that you can transfer to a four-year university, you will.

Community colleges are a great option for students with financial setbacks and for those who simply may not be ready for such a big transition to a four-year university directly from high school. Save money, learn as much as you can, make connections, challenge yourself, and help raise community college transfer rates. Si se puede [Yes you can]!

Stefanie Tellez is a college senior at San Diego State University and was a 2016-2017 Virtual Intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics