BY KYLIE YEATMAN
The dreaded college application season is marked by students desperately trying to get meetings with their college counselors, researching four-year institutions and longing to get as far away from their hometown as possible—but increasingly, community college has appealed to students as an affordable option, as California now provides free tuition for the first two years of community college.
The Class of 2019 saw 32 percent of Carmel High students matriculating at Monterey Peninsula College as opposed to a four-year institution. That number is up from 17 percent of the Class of 2018 and 24 percent of the Class of 2017, as noted by data from the CHS College and Career Center.
As explained by academic counselor Darren Johnston, any stigma surrounding attending junior colleges has seen a decrease over the last few years and students have become hesitant to take on the potential debt accrued at a four-year institution.
“For many students a two-year is simply the best option,” Johnston notes. “For those who are concerned with finances and the cost of attending a four-year, for those who aren’t ready to leave home, who aren’t confident in their high school performance or aren’t yet aware of what they want to study, I think it’s the best option.”
Academic counselor Jeff Rogersadds that the state’s commitment to making community college more affordable will likely incentivize students to attend a two-year when the cost is factored in.
“Not only do you now get a college education for free for the first two years, but for many students with [average or below average grade point averages], they actually end up with more choices,” explains Rogers, noting that students with below-average GPAs for the schools they’re applying to will have a higher chance of getting in as a transfer student, as schools often look for transfers whose statistics match their school averages.
California schools in particular, including those in the University of California and California State University school systems, accept a large number of transfer students annually. The U.C. system accepted 28,752 transfer students in 2019, roughly 70 percent of applicants, while around 93 percent of CSU students are transfers from a California community college.
While counselors observe that student reluctance to attend community college due to the perceived college-bound culture at CHS has decreased over the years, students going to MPC are still occasionally looked down on for not going to a four-year.
“There is definitely a stigma around going to community college at Carmel, but for me, it’s the best decision I’ve ever made,” 2019 graduate Chloe Obolensky says. “In only a few months at MPC I’ve been able to find my passions and get more involved in them.”
Commenting on potential stigma of going to community college, Johnston observes that students have started to consider MPC and other community colleges as a more valid option. At CHS, enrollment in a two-year college is now higher than the statewide high school average.
“Sometimes students will say they’re ‘just’ going to community college, but it’s not ‘just’ anything,” Johnston comments. “It started with people referring to it as community college instead of ‘junior’ college, and that was certainly a step.”
Obolensky encourages students to consider community college not as a last resort, but as a solid education.
“It seemed to me like there was a high possibility I would’ve dropped out of college if I had gone to a four-year,” adds 2018 CHS graduate McKenzie Lambert. “I’m able to explore all my options for free and have fun in all of my classes.”
While many students cite their goal of transferring to a four-year college as motivation for going to MPC and other community colleges, according to a longitudinal study done by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, nationally only 29 percent of students end up matriculating to a four-year college within six years.
Additionally, only 40 percent of students who attend community colleges in California end up with enough credits in school for it to make a dent in the workforce. Those numbers, however, don’t take into account the number of students who go into community college with the goal of transferring.
Counselors say students looking to go into MPC should take their courses seriously if they go into it with the goal of transferring.
“If transferring out is your goal, you’d better be focused,” Rogers adds.
Counselors agree that if students aren’t able to get into their top choice colleges, going to community college might be the best option. Still, 2019 grad Kelly Wong, who didn’t get into her top-choice colleges last year, explains that the level of rigor at MPC may not quite match that of AP classes at CHS for some students.
“The reality for some students is that the difficulty of MPC really pales in comparison to the harder APs at CHS,” Wong says. “But it’s still an economical plan, even if kids straight off the Carmel AP program might feel like they’ve gone back a few grades.”
Johnston notes the argument often made that without attending a four-year college, students will miss out on the “four-year college experience,” but the counselor explains that this experience won’t be the same for everyone.
“For some people, that experience is absolutely horrible,” Johnston says. “The odds of that being good are pretty low.”
For students not looking to make the plunge into the unknown of a university, community college may be their best bet.
“Don’t be afraid of choosing community college,” Obolensky advises. “Taking things at my own pace has truly been an eye-opener for me.”