Is Child College Choice For Parental Vanity?

Harvard. Photo by Pixabay

Harvard University. Photo by Pixabay.

Where we live, high school senior promgoers often take pictures with each teen holding up a small sign of where they are attending college in the fall. Both the teens in front of the lens and the parents behind are glowing with pride. Both in-state and out-of-state school names are held up, public and private, small and large. It shows hope for the future, the prestige of admittance and pride of parents.

I’ve never seen a kid hold up a sign for a community college, though.

The reason is obvious right? Community college – which some call “junior college” – is the place one goes if you: 1. Couldn’t get into a “real college”  2. Have no plan for the future  3. Can’t afford to go to a “real college.”

“Junior College” seems like a euphemism for not quite being a college – ala junior high is to high school what junior college is to college.

Not too positive, eh? No wonder no one wants to put that on a sign, given the negativity that abounds.

Parents want to be proud of their kids, and child achievement rests on things like academic and athletic performance as well as excellence in the performing arts and leadership at the high school, sports, places of worship and within the community.

More often than not, we parents like to take some – if not a lot (or even all) – of the credit for how our kids turn out and the choices they make – and ultimately – the people our kids turn out to be.

There needs to be a balance here, however. We should help our kids feel responsible for themselves and free to make life choices, rather than meet the expectations of parents or a community at large.

Of course, good parents seek to help their kids to perform well and make good choices, which often means pushing them to do what they need to when they don’t want to. It also means easing up when it’s apparent our child is doing his or her best, regardless of how siblings or the neighbor’s child is performing.

It’s a balance that is a fine line between pushing a child and accepting them for who they are. And feeling as though the parent has done the best they can for their child.

When Bobby or Sara have had a great high school experience and they are now headed for a great college, what could be more exciting? Isn’t the college experience one that middle and upper-middle-class America cherishes for their kids?

Community college won’t offer the “away” college experience – no fraternities or sororities, no dorms, no chance to hang out with new people on a resident campus by day and all night in a dorm, Greek house or apartment, reveling in college life and forming life-lasting bonds for friendship and even job opportunities (school and Greek alumni stick by each other).

I’ve also been told that community colleges have high drop-out rates, don’t offer good opportunities for transfers, and worse yet, the “blemish” of having a junior college on a student’s transcript will make it harder to get into the program of the student’s choice at university, or if they finish their degree, it may make the candidate look less appealing to employers in certain industries.

I’m not the head of admissions for every university in the country for every major, nor am I the hiring manager for all the possible places that a person could get a job, so I truly can’t say for certain about the validity of these statements.

I wouldn’t want to make generalizations, though.

I CAN say that common sense tells me a few things. 1. If you have a plan of where you want to go when you start at community college, and you’re the type to follow through on what you do, you can start out at a community college for many majors, and there are a lot of success stories out there for students doing just this. 2. The transfer opportunities that now exist are truly well-done at community colleges. “2+2” and “3+1” programs partner with universities with excellent reputations for majors such as business, health careers, architecture and even lauded engineering programs with the University of Illinois. These programs let students pay community college fees for two or three years before transferring 3.

For high school students with 3.75 or higher GPAs and an ACT score of 27 or higher, there are 50 full-tuition scholarships available at our local community college. And if students have that level GPA through their time at community college, they are eligible for scholarships to use at their transfer school – scholarships worth up to $10,000.

If a student intends on graduate school, savings like this are phenomenal – our local community college is $4,000 per year for tuition and fees. The best-priced universities in this state are about twice as much for tuition and fees –  yep, that does not include room and board.

While I know some parents who are very interested in this option for their students, I still know some who say “Yeah, that’s great, but…” and with a shake of their head convey that it’s not what they want for their child.

Community college – “junior college” – has a stigma. Yes, it has a much easier admission policy than selective institutions, because it must be many things to many kinds of people. But it doesn’t deserve a negative stigma. Our local school is a gleaming jewel – it has a clean, modern, state-of-the-art campus with very good faculty and well-kept, beautiful grounds. It’s the called “the hidden gem” of our county by many. However, even though 30,000 people go there (including 20% of people with Bachelors or even Masters degrees) many people living in our county still haven’t seen how our tax dollars are at work there.

As a parent, I’m weighing college choice heavily now. I have a high school junior and we are looking at various schools. She originally looked at an excellent major that isn’t offered at every college, and wouldn’t be able to take very many courses at the community college to satisfy the gen ed requirements for the degree.

She may change her mind about that degree, though, and I can’t help but look at the Excel spreadsheet I made with her predicted likely income after graduation and the average expenses for living in this area. Including her anticipated loan debt. My spreadsheet shows her in the red.

Did you know that the average college graduate finishes in debt 50K now? And in many cases, when an advanced degree is required, that amount is about double?

When I was college-age, most of my friends went to the in-state schools or small liberal arts colleges (and some went to very prestigious schools). Although no set of parents was wealthy, the vast majority had their four-year degrees paid for. My friends started adult life with zero debt.

Given today’s costs, I can’t do this for my children.

I started at my local community college near where I lived at the time. It had a good reputation even then, and I felt my classes were excellent. But, I felt lonely and “left behind” at the community college since all of my friends went away and were having the time of their lives.

I was motivated to work save and get to a university. Yes, I loved going away to school. I financed it myself and paid for it with my husband for years afterward. But I was only $10K in debt.

I do dream of sending my daughter away to school to live that middle-class dream and give her the memories of a lifetime, as I experienced. Some of my favorite memories of my life were from college.

Truth be told, I think the community colleges do a better job of making the environment feel like “home” to students these days and have much more on-campus activities than years ago when I went, so maybe this is an unfair comparison.

There are many more transfer students now than ever, but sometimes it can be challenging to fit in later once bonds have formed between people as a freshman.

Then again, every person’s experience is truly different from another’s. It’s difficult to predict what the future will hold.

I write this to make all parents aware of what options are there for their children and to think about things, maybe armed with different information than they had before reading this post.

College choice is not an easy decision. It can have life-long impacts. And I imagine it sure feels good to let people know what fantastic school your child is attending. I get that. But, the future of loan repayment looms for many.

Perhaps it can be best summed up as prestige now…and debt later…which is the better legacy for children?

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