Community worth the commute
Community colleges have been around for almost a century and were founded with the intent of giving local residents a chance to transfer or earn an associate degree. There are some Santa Monica College students willing to wake up at the crack of dawn to catch their first bus or face Los Angeles traffic just to take classes at SMC, passing other more local community colleges.
So, is commuting to SMC worth the hassle?
The nice atmosphere, great diversity and proximity to the beach are all obvious perks, but surprisingly, SMC ranks no better than other leading community colleges in the area, according to following statistics.
Students flock to SMC mainly because of high transfer rates. Last year, SMC students accounted for a whopping 2,176 admissions to the University of California and California State University institutions.
However, given that there are over 30,000 students at SMC, 2,176 acceptance letters no longer seem as impressive.
For example, last year, 680 out of 1,865 SMC applicants were accepted to the University of California, Los Angeles, which means SMC had a 36.46 percent acceptance rate, according to the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office Data Mart. Though the rate is relatively high, it is not the highest in Los Angeles, and the rest of the competition is right on SMC’s heels.
Pierce College beat out SMC with 38.8 percent of their applicants accepted to UCLA. El Camino College came close behind with 34.71 percent and West Los Angeles College with 33.75 percent. If we consider a much longer commute, Contra Costa College had one in every two applicants receive an acceptance letter to UCLA, according to the CCCCO documents.
Since SMC's transfer rates are not significantly higher, compared to neighboring community colleges, then it must have something to do with the experiences at the college, or perhaps it is easier to find more transferable classes at SMC?
According to Assist, a website that helps students find the classes they need to transfer, the number of SMC course offerings are either equivalent or lower compared to Pierce and El Camino.
Specifically for the 2012-13 academic year, the number of mathematics courses offered that fulfill the Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum requirement at El Camino is 27, while it is 17 at SMC. For physical sciences, Pierce offers 70 courses, while SMC offers only 40.
But what about the professors at SMC?
SMC's professors average 3.9 out of 5 on Rate My Professor, a website that allows students to rate their professors and campuses of institutions. This shows that SMC professors are just as liked or disliked as the professors at Pierce, which averages 3.86, and El Camino which has a 3.9 average.
Even though acceptance rates, transferable courses and professors seem to be on par with other community colleges, there is something in the details that sets SMC apart from the rest.
However, the statistics of surrounding colleges are not comparable to SMC because of the sheer number of students SMC accommodates every semester, compared to El Camino which has 23,000 students. and Pierce which has 21,000, according to the colleges' official websites.
The amount of students who went through the application process three years ago was substantially higher than at other community colleges.
In 2010, 5.5 percent of the student population at SMC applied to UCLA, while only 2.6 percent at Pierce and 2.1 precent at El Camino. SMC attracts more students who want to transfer, not to mention, being at SMC motivates students to apply to a four-year university, such as UCLA.
Outside of academics, SMC is integrated with the community, as the home of the John Drescher Planetarium, Broad Stage and KCRW radio station. The SMC experience is beyond libraries and classrooms. It is about being immersed in what Santa Monica has to offer.
So when choosing a community college, it comes down to personal preferences. If your goal is to transfer, do not assume attending SMC will give you some sort of leg-up. In the end, you alone are the applicant. If that means taking classes from multiple community colleges in order to get the courses you need, that may be the way to go. But if your goal is to take advantage of the amazing facilities, internationally diverse population and community involvement, then you are in the right place. Perhaps a long commute is not as bad as it sounds when the school is worth the distance.