Originally published on Medium (by Jenny Dearborn) — The college admissions scandal is back in the news with the first prosecution. But for me, what’s shocking isn’t just that wealthy parents were gaming the system to help their kids get into top universities, or that the convicted Stanford sailing coach received a slap on the wrist relative to those incarcerated by our terribly broken criminal justice system. Or even the difference those millions in bribes could have made for our country’s many underfunded schools.
The real college scandal in my view impacts millions of Americans and our economy: higher education costs have more than doubled in the past 30 years and student loan debt has ballooned to $1.5 trillion. Yet US high school graduates are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as Americans with college degrees, even with jobless numbers at record lows.
We need better options. I can speak to one of them personally.
You see, I have a Masters in Education from Stanford University. And while my family didn’t have money to bribe anyone even if we’d wanted to, I did game the system in a way: I started my post-secondary education at a community college.
Yep, my journey to Stanford started at American River College in Sacramento, and I owe what I am today to the community college system. Without owing a fortune in student loans.
In 2018–19, the average published tuition and fees for a full-time student at public two-year institutions in the US was just $3,660, vs. $10,230 at public four-year colleges. But with grants and tax benefits, the average net cost was -$400.
And while 60% of students at public four-year schools and 82% of students at for-profits borrowed money, only 36% of all community college students had taken out at least some loans in 2015-2016. Just 12% had borrowed more than $13,500.
It’s a great alternative. Today, 29% of University of California graduates and 51% of California State University graduates are community college transfers. We are a scrappy bunch. Most work, many full time. Nearly a third are the first generation to attend college, 15% are single parents and 20% are students with disabilities. If you want to hire someone who is determined to succeed, this is the right candidate pool.
Indeed, California community colleges educate 70% of our state’s nurses and 80% of firefighters, law enforcement personnel and emergency medical technicians. These schools offer associate degrees and short-term job training certificates in more than 175 fields, training 100,000+ individuals annually in industry-specific workforce skills.
Community colleges also support our economy by partnering with businesses to provide apprenticeships, a critical alternative to earning a degree that may just save the tech industry from a dangerous and growing skills gap (read my series here).
Community college gave me the start I needed and helped me earn a BA from UC Berkeley with far less debt. I was then prepared to apply to, and be accepted, fair and square, at Stanford.
Doesn’t everyone who’s willing to work hard deserve the same chance?