Slowly but surely, stigmas about community college are being replaced by accurate (and positive) perspectives.

Just ask admissions staff at Ivy League and other top tier schools about community colleges. In a recent New York Times article, Laura Pappano cites Williams College, Brown University, and Muhlenberg College as selective schools that are finding community college students compelling candidates.

He’s headed to Wentworth with NO debt and with successful experience in higher education. Such students present an application profile different than that of the traditional college student in terms of family economics, age, and life experience. Having typically managed family and career responsibilities, they transfer to elite schools with track records of non-academic, as well as academic success.

Screen Shot 2019-10-16 at 12.03.44 PMThis distinction sets apart Lee, Jason and Lara Meintjes (pictured above) and other CC grads from students transferring from other four-year schools, a claim that Pappano supports with data from a 2019 study by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation: students transferring from community college to a selective four-year institution go on to graduate at higher rates than those coming from four-year colleges — 73 versus 61 percent.

And potentially strong college students no longer automatically head straight from high school to highly selective colleges and universities. Increasingly, high-quality students are foregoing the four-year experience at a high power (and high cost) institution. Elite four-year schools are recognizing this and adjusting their recruiting in order to zero in on sources that they previously ignored.

About one-third of college students are community college students. So many of them transfer to four-year schools that nearly half of college students either are or have been community college students. Numbers like that counter the image that CCs have been saddled with since their establishment. Nontraditional students are the face of college.

By the time, these serious students transfer from community college they’ve built a record of accomplishment. As Pappano puts it, Who doesn’t love students who bet on their own drive? Who have worked as landscapers and cashiers, care for parents or children, study in their cars between shifts and feel grateful for — rather than entitled to — the education they get?

That is one reason these students are being courted by private colleges, even elite ones.

 Betting on these students is a smart move. And let’s credit the schools that help them get to this point.

Community colleges are the workhorses of higher education. That is the article’s opening line. I heard those exact words at a book event a year and half ago for Open Admissions, voiced by a Harvard graduate friend. They’re both right!


Sandy Smith: “Community Colleges are the workhorses of American higher education.”

Sandy writes regularly about real estate in a variety of publications and has worked in higher ed as well. I remember that the book store audience included several students from a local private school who were considering where they might attend college. “Our teachers and counselors have never mentioned community college,” one observed. But hopefully that is changing everywhere.

Last week’s post focused on gratitude, and if you read this NYT piece, you’ll find mention of it again.

Charles Richter, Muhlenberg’s transfer student advisor, points to “gratitude and drive” in the transfer students that he’s encountered during more than ten years of working with them.

Many transfers come from other four-year colleges, he said, because they “had this terrible experience somewhere else.” It’s often social, not academic, he said. But community college transfers come “because they have accomplished something. They want to move ahead.”

Equipped with gratitude and drive and relatively unburdened by college debt, these community college graduates are reaping the rewards of hard work and wise planning.


Ned Bachus is the author of Open Admissions: What Teaching at Community College Taught Me About Learning (Wild River Books, 2017) and of the “Turning Points” weekly blog on City of Brotherly Love (Fleur-de-Lis Books), his book of stories, was awarded the 2013 IPPY Gold Medal for Literary Fiction. Bachus’s article, “Learning From Turning Points in Our Teaching Lives,” was featured in the May issue of NEA Higher Education Advocate, which reaches over 150,000 college faculty in the U.S.