Harvard Ain't Everythingby Barbara Kapetanakes, PsyD. on 01/15/15
Tom Hanks had an op-ed in the New York Times the other day hailing President Obama's push to help provide easier access to community college to American workers. Mr. Hanks talked about his own experience at community college--how much he felt he learned, how it prepared him to attend a four-year college, and the great teachers he had.
His op-ed was timely, as many 12th graders are anxiously awaiting acceptance letters from their top choice colleges, and those who don't get into the "better" schools will be left feeling disappointed. I often work with the kids who end up at community college to start, or who go away, weren't really ready for the rigors of a 4-year college and life away from home; they come back, take some classes at community college, and venture out again a year or so later. Even though there is nothing wrong with these scenarios, many kids, particularly those in affluent suburbs, are made to feel that community college is a waste of time ("13th grade") or that they are never going to amount to anything if they start at community college. Whether for maturity reasons, financial reasons, or having poor grades in high school, community college is the best choice for many young adults.
I have taught as an adjunct at many local colleges, including the community college. While, yes, there may be a higher percentage of kids "goofing off" or ill-prepared for college life, there are also many kids who are very serious about school and see community college as a stepping stone. In particular, I've had students studying nursing in my classes who are incredibly dedicated, since they know that nursing programs are very competitive and nothing but a 4.0 will open doors for them. I had one student move here from a foreign country eager to pick up the profession she enjoyed back home. This required her to meet educational requirements in the US. She worked hard, completed her courses, and then went on to a prestigious program in her field. I've seen middle aged students who want to change careers or advance in their current job, elderly retirees auditing classes just for fun, and blue-collar kids hoping to be the first ones in their families to finish college. The goof-offs eventually drop out, either returning when they have more maturity, or going into a career that doesn't require college. The good students go on to find their success. Tom Hanks clearly didn't do too badly.
I, myself, have taken art classes through the community college for fun and personal interest, and have met other individuals from all walks of life who take advantage of such programs year after year, paying the more than reasonable tuition simply for the pleasure of drawing or painting once a week. You're not going to see that at Yale.
Community colleges serve a purpose. While it's fine to dream of the "big time," starting out small in no way prevents you from making it big later on. Someone who will be successful will find his path, community college or Harvard. As long as you are moving forward, you are moving in the right direction.