Worth more than it costs
Community colleges are sometimes considered "fall back" schools that are meant for unmotivated students who were not admitted to a university. However, my experience at Santa Monica College has shown me that many students attend the college because of financial reasons, rather than not being accepted to a four-year institute.
Seeing the high tuition fees, expenses and loans on the list of the financial aid packages that some universities had offered me, I knew I had to take the less expensive route: two years of community college, followed by two years at a university.
Many other SMC students have come across the same financial dilemmas, using community college as an alternative to get a degree for less money.
Student Amanda Dove, a first-year chemistry major, was accepted by several universities out of high school. Due to financial concerns, she decided to attend SMC and then transfer.
“SMC is a stepping stone to transfer to other colleges with sometimes even better opportunities.”
Others like second-year student Erica Matsubara, a graphic design and business major, spent time at SMC to avoid skyrocketing tuition fees and to figure out their future career paths.
“I didn't know what I wanted to do, so I took general education classes here," Matsubara said. "I thought I'd go to a community college first [and] figure out what I wanted to do before I jump into something big. It saved me money. It made me realize what I want to major in.”
Students who take some time off after high school also tend to find their place at SMC.
Second-year student David Alas, who is planning on applying to the University of Columbia this fall, served in the army after high school.
"Here you have students who come right out of high school, and older students who go back to school," Alas said. "For non-traditional students, a community college is the perfect place to start the journey.”
Alas said that he did not apply to universities because he could not afford them. He chose SMC because he heard it was one of the greatest transfer schools to four-year universities, an aspect that attracts many to SMC.
English professor Jeffrey Sosner, who teaches at both SMC and CSU Northridge, recognizes the attitudinal differences.
"Overall, I see more dedication from students at SMC than from students at CSUN," said Sosner. "At SMC, I see a lot of students who are either international students, or coming from a slightly disadvantaged socio-economic place. They tend to appreciate that they have this opportunity. Attendance tends to be better here than at CSUN."
Although respected colleges and high costs seem to go together, SMC students receive a great value for a fraction of the expected price. Since my first semester at SMC, I have met supportive professors who have encouraged their students to step out of their comfort zone, committed and motivated classmates, and competent counselors who genuinely care.
The college's credentials and fees are not the only factors that attract students to SMC. The location itself attracts many to the college.
"[SMC] is in a great part of Santa Monica," Alas said. "Because [of that], there's such a diverse medley of people that come here from such different backgrounds and cultures.”
SMC also provides the opportunity to educate students beyond textbooks and lectures. The college offers a wide variety of student employment programs, as well as discounted study abroad courses and internships.
Four-year universities are well worth their hefty expenses, but when worried about college costs and post-college debt, spending two years at a transfer college such as SMC, is what many students would take into consideration.