For students who have been admitted to four-year universities, enrolling in community college can be a tough -- but practical -- decision to make.
By Justin Mendez
May 1 is the deadline for students to submit their intent to register at private universities as well as California State and University of California campuses. For some Fulfillment Fund scholars, it's a day to celebrate the momentous accomplishment of being the first in their family to attend a four-year university.
For other students, the choice to enroll in community college is surrounded by stigma of receiving a "less significant" education.
The Fulfillment Fund helps alleviate future transfer students’ concerns by preparing them with the critical knowledge and skills needed for a strong first-step into higher education.
I spoke to Emily*, a Fulfillment Fund senior, to find out how she is feeling about starting at Santa Monica College this fall. When I first met Emily during a Fulfillment Fund professional networking event, she introduced herself with a firm handshake, confident voice and lots of enthusiasm in sharing her future plans. I immediately knew she was a leader amongst leaders. Being a Fulfillment Fund student for four years, she has taken advantage of college overnight trips, student leadership group meetings and most recently, a STEM program at UCLA where she gained laboratory experience working with PhD students and learning about cancer stem cell research and microbiology. She also received the Fulfillment Fund scholarship.
Emily was accepted to a four-year university, but explains that financial considerations prompted her to start at a community college instead. With tuition and costs of attending college increasing each year, community colleges have become an increasingly viable option for many graduating seniors, particularly low-income and first generation college students. Emily described some of the factors that influenced her decision to attend community college instead of a four-year university.
“Being a first-generation college student, the biggest fear you have is the money. Both my parents are immigrants, [I] just have that constant fear, what if one day they’re deported? It’s all of that. It’s not just about your education, but you have to see everything around it. My parents can any day get deported. So if anything happens I have to take care of my little sister.”
Going through perhaps one of the most difficult decisions of her life, Emily visited the Fulfillment Fund office often to discuss her options with our staff members at her high school. The stress she was experiencing was evident in her tone and her energy levels. Working with our college counselor, transfer counselor and classroom advisors, she received academic support by planning out all of her options thoroughly.
We provided emotional support, as we reminded her that not receiving funding does not reflect her capability as a student. After making the final decision to attend a community college, her enthusiasm returned and she continues to speak about Santa Monica College with excitement. One of her only concerns is time management, but she is already prepared on how to stay on top of her studies.
“I know for every class I have to study 2-3 hours. In high school I procrastinated a lot… that’s what I am worried about. Just managing my time wisely to find time to study. But I know it’s not going to be that bad because they have their own library and I checked it out and it’s a beautiful library so I know I’ll be able to sit down and quietly study... not only that, I won’t only use office hours for homework but for the connection, start networking, so they can help me out later on when I need to transfer, or need a letter of recommendation.”
Choosing a community college when you have the opportunity to begin at a four-year university is a tough decision to make. Emily’s perspective reminds us that the reality of life circumstances cannot be ignored when helping students decide where and how they will begin their post-secondary education, and their adult life.
Emily’s educational journey is an inspiration. With the strength gained through her adversities, and her perseverance to achieve in higher education, I am confident she will persist to accomplish her goal of majoring in biology at UCLA and one day attaining her PhD.
*Name has been changed