The Case for Community College
By Friday, May 1, high schoolers across the nation will commit to the university they’re going to attend for the next four years. But many overlook the amazing benefits that community colleges have, like our local Foothill College. In this article, Los Altos alumni Negar Bagheri and Peter Coe share their stories about attending community college and how it has impacted them and their future.
April 29, 2020
Another shot at my dream
Throughout my time at Los Altos High School, I frequently joked that if everything falls apart, I’ll just go to community college, a place I thought was full of unmotivated, lazy students.
Flashforward to my senior year, I suffered multiple concussions and my doctors would not let me go away to a university. When they recommended I go to community college, I was livid. I didn’t spend years of studying and participating in clubs and athletics just to end up at an institution I believed was inferior to a four-year university. I was convinced that the community college environment wouldn’t challenge or suit me: the classes would be lower quality than those offered at universities, the teachers would be mediocre, and I’d be surrounded by unmotivated students. Further, I thought the academic and athletic resources would be limited and I wouldn’t have a social life.
The main factor behind my disdain for community college was the fact that I grew up in an achievement-based academic environment that taught me successful students went to universities and unsuccessful students went to community college. Turns out, I was dead wrong: Community college is intellectually stimulating and got me into my dream school.
When I began taking classes at Foothill College, I learned that they were not inferior. Rather, they were rigorous and the credits would transfer directly to a UC. My classmates were super motivated, facilitating interesting class discussions, and my professors were also incredibly accomplished. My humanities teacher was an assistant professor and got her PhD from Stanford; my anthropology teacher got her PhD from UCLA.
But better yet, they knew how to teach and their goal was to help me learn, not to force me to choose between a good grade and deep learning. Their availability and office hours were extensive and I was not relegated to being tutored by teaching assistants. The knowledge and passion they have for their fields is incredible and inspiring.
Further, the academic resources Foothill provides are copious: the Foothill College Promise gives two years of free tuition and covers textbooks. When I needed extra help, I could go to the STEM center to get free tutoring. If I needed help deciding classes, I could meet with a counselor in less than 15 minutes. In regards to athletics, I could go to the athletic trainer whenever I had an injury, and I had access to athletic facilities and an athlete-specific academic advisor. Foothill offers multiple sports teams that compete in a community college division that can help you get recruited to a university.
Most importantly, I didn’t have to pay a cent to attend Foothill, and it positioned me to transfer to my dream schools, UC Berkeley and UCLA. I’ll be transferring in as a junior after one year of community college because Foothill’s scheduling and counseling enabled me to take a course load that fulfilled all of the IGETC and AA (Associates of Arts Degree) requirements needed to transfer. IGETC is a course plan that students can take to fulfill Freshman and Sophomore general education requirements before transferring to a four year public university. Foothill equips students to be able to meet these requirements within a year, as I did.
Fortunately, my path is not the only avenue for students to achieve their academic dream. Although I did not do the Transfer Alliance Program (TAP), it greatly improves students’ chances of getting into UCLA. Compared to UCLA’s 12.4 percent acceptance rate for high school students, TAP boosts students’ chances of getting into this school to around 80 percent. Better yet, the acceptance rate to a UC as a transfer is much higher than high school applicants.
When I did not get accepted to UC Berkeley or UCLA as a high school senior, I was devastated. Seeing all my friends get accepted to their dream schools was bittersweet. They deserved it, but it was hard to celebrate when I was dying on the inside. Fortunately, Foothill gave me another shot at my dream and I hope you take a serious look at the advantages of a community college education.
The stereotypes around community college are just wrong. I went to community college because it was the only option I had. Now that I have attended Foothill, I have realized the incredible opportunities it provides. I saved two years of university tuition (Foothill is free!) and now have money saved up for graduate school. As I see students deciding what they want after high school, my wholehearted advice is to seriously consider community college. It isn’t just an alternative option, but also a great option.
I finally found my nest
Instead of confirming my enrollment to a college on May 1, I was crying in my bedroom because I couldn’t go to my dream school. Although I had been accepted, my family and I could not afford to pay $76,000 a year for my undergraduate education. I’m a psychology major, and many jobs in the psychology field require further education to obtain a Master’s or PhD. Therefore, I would not only have to spend a total of $304,000 across four years, but I would also have to also pay for graduate school. This would be additional hundreds of thousands of dollars I would need to spend on my education.
Although I applied for financial aid through FAFSA, I wasn’t granted any. Los Altos is a wealthy area and I am privileged enough to live here, but my family is still paying off mortgages. This made it financially unviable for my family to pay so much money for my education.
I could have taken out student loans, but I didn’t want to still be paying off this debt when I was in my 40’s or 50’s. We have normalized debt in our society, and while it is not uncommon for people to pay off their loans for years and years to come, I did not want this burden to hang over my shoulders.
I did have other options—a few CSUS’ and eight out of state private schools—but they were either too expensive or they just didn’t feel right. Therefore, I made the decision to attend Foothill College. There was so much uncertainty when I committed. At my time at Los Altos I was never told about the programs that Foothill offers. This uncertainty scared me—what if I went to Foothill and I did badly? The people around me also questioned my decision, and my announcement to attend Foothill didn’t seem as exciting: I didn’t have a school t-shirt or sweater to wear, I didn’t know what to put in my Instagram bio, and I didn’t have a roommate I was trying to find. Everything I accomplished in high school felt like a waste—I had done my best to be involved in clubs, sports, and take rigorous classes. I spent hundreds on college applications and I had taken the SAT and AP tests, all for them not to be useful.
But reflecting upon my decision a year later, attending Foothill College was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and every skill I learned in high school, such as leading a club, has led me to my successes at Foothill.
One of the best things about Foothill is it allows you to explore many different things without you spending too much money. Going in, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I’ve always known I had an interest in psychology. However, when I started taking classes, I realized I was interested in more than just that. In high school, I struggled a lot with biology, so when I signed up for Honors Physical Anthropology, I was nervous. I was surprised by how fascinated I was by the curriculum, and now, after having taken cultural anthropology, my second anthropology course, I am re-considering my interests. Many students go through this; it can be hard to know what you like until you have actually taken the course. Foothill has allowed me to test the waters without having to jump all the way in. I am able to explore my interests at no cost at all, and while there are students with certain circumstances (such as out of state, not a first year, or international) they still pay a very low cost.
At our student orientation, one of the speakers told us about his success as he had also gone to a community college. He asked a couple of students to go on stage and dance. While there were a handful of volunteers, only one was dancing. The others just stood there out of embarrassment after realizing what they had signed themselves up for. The speaker later explained that even when we are in a situation we don’t like, we should still give it our all. This is a notion I have lived by throughout my year at Foothill.
There are so many opportunities at Foothill, and in the Fall Quarter of 2019, I decided to apply for student government. I was nervous as I did not get into ASB at Los Altos, but I thought to myself that there wasn’t much to lose. I ended up getting the position I applied for, and I am now planning on running for the VP of administration. At Los Altos, I did not have the confidence to run for a school-wide election, and here I am one year later.
Not only has Foothill provided me with amazing resources and opportunities, but it also offers a diverse community, which is something I cherish most about the school. I always thought Los Altos was diverse, but the students in my classes come from all walks of life: I’ve had classes with young parents trying to support their families, veterans, university drop-outs, and people just taking classes for fun. I’ve met so many people throughout the year who have incredible life stories and are building their lives up through education. The variety of people attending community college is a beautiful thing and I don’t think you’ll find that in a four year university.
One of the biggest questions I am asked is if I feel like I am missing out on the college experience. While I am missing out on living in a dorm and going to big parties, I am also able to do things I could have never done had I just gone to a four year. I’ve saved thousands of dollars, and one of my volunteer experiences has turned into a part-time job—I currently work at a school, which has been a dream job of mine. I am a part of student government, and on the bright side, I don’t have to share a restroom with anyone. Throughout this year, I have changed into a person I never thought I could be at my time at Los Altos. While I may have missed out on the traditional college experience, I wouldn’t trade the time I’ve had at Foothill.
If you want free, easy access to a high-quality education, look no further than a California community college. We hope we erased some of the stigma surrounding community college and illustrated that it’s a great option after high school. It has allowed both of us to see ourselves in a different light and community college teaches you that if you work hard you are able to achieve your dreams, even if they feel unrealistic. If you have any questions feel free to reach out to us!
Negar’s Instagram: @negarbagherii
Negar’s Email: [email protected]
Peter’s Instagram: Peter.Coe
Peter’s Email: [email protected]