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Finding Happiness at a Community College

Fountain Street view of GRCC’s Juan Olivarez Plaza (Anthony Clark Jr./The Collegiate)

By Madison Rose

Although they would never admit to it, my former high school places an immense amount of pressure on its students to attend elite and impressive universities. The University of Michigan is the standard, with Michigan State right below, and a few ivies and out-of-state schools are sprinkled throughout. From ninth grade on, students are challenged both academically and personally. We are pushed to be kind, accepting, smart, well-rounded, hard-working, but most importantly, successful and accomplished. Therefore, when it comes to our college discussions in our junior and senior year English classes, community college is barely even mentioned to the Advanced Placement students.

Although I knew I could be accepted to and attend a four-year university like the rest of my classmates, I also knew I couldn’t afford it. I did not have a college fund and would not be receiving financial aid from my parents nor from the government, and unfortunately, my after-school job at McDonald’s would not be able to pay the $30,000 I would owe for tuition. That means I could either attend Grand Rapids Community College or I could take out $30,000 in loans at age 18.

Financially, GRCC was the smartest option, however, I worried about the stigma surrounding it. The idea of telling my classmates that I was attending community college while they headed off to the University of Michigan and New York University was frankly humiliating. I stressed about being viewed as stupid or lazy. I dreaded the condescending

“Oh! That’s really smart actually. It will save money.” However, I simultaneously feared the crippling debt even more. So, swallowing my shame, I enrolled at GRCC for the 2020-2021 school year masking my choice under the excuse that “I was not going to pay thousands of dollars for online school.”

I could not be more grateful for my decision. Although online, all of my classes have been enriching, fulfilling, and challenging. Through every semester, I have been supported, guided, and pushed to my fullest potential. My professors are quick to answer questions, are understanding through tough times, and will take the time to make sure I understand the material. I have truly loved every class I have taken here and every professor I have had. I don’t feel as if I received any less of an education than my former classmates just because I am attending a community college. I have learned the same material as them with just as wonderful of professors at a fraction of the cost. My three semesters at GRCC have cost less than a quarter would have cost me at the university I was planning to attend.

While it took away my planned and typical “college experience,” COVID-19 granted me the excuse to explore the unconventional college path for my high school– something that I will be eternally grateful for. By demoting community college to an afterthought when discussing post-graduation options, high schools are doing a disservice to their students. Although not as prestigious or impressive as an elite four-year university, that does not make community college inferior. Community colleges offer the same educational opportunities while also providing the exclusive opportunity of side-stepping financial ruin. Community college students are not stupid or lazy. They often will end up at the same universities as their former classmates, only two years later and not with $60,000 dollars worth of debt.

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