From “Harvard on the Hill” to an Ivy League: Breaking the Stigma Surrounding Community College
Andrea Lucia Alfonso
PHHS '16, County College of Morris '18, Cornell University ‘20
Especially during these trying times, some of you may be worried about the financial assistance necessary to attend a four-year university. Whether it be that or just the fear of not truly being prepared to attend a four-year institution, attending the County College of Morris for the first two years of your undergraduate education may be the correct decision for you.
I am not going to lie, attending community college was never my first choice in how I hoped to start my education in Biological Engineering. Unfortunately, our society does not always properly value community college. From the outsider perspective, the two-year university system is made for mediocre students who will receive only half of the opportunities that they would from a “real school” and for most of them, will become a system that they will never move past from. Although this could not be any more false, this outsider perspective was in fact the reason I, among many of my peers, had this initial reaction to attending community college. However, being that I had graduated in the top fifteen percent of my high school class, I ended up attending the County of College of Morris (CCM), sometimes known as “Harvard on the Hill”, on full ride tuition every semester through the NJ STARS program. Knowing that CCM was a highly ranked two-year institution where both my brother and sister had excelled before me, and knowing that I alone would be responsible for financing my future, these contributing factors helped me to settle with my decision. This decision, in fact, became one of the best I have ever made in my life, a general consensus found in most community college attendees.
Even from the first day of orientation, I felt welcomed. From the staff to my fellow peers, the campus felt like a second home. Although some students refuse to get the negative stigma of community college out of their minds, it did not impede with my assimilation to the campus and all its opportunities. Along with the financial stability, the small student to teacher ratio in the classrooms made it evident that the faculty would do all in their power to see the students succeed. As I excelled in my studies and my extracurricular activities, the school recognized me with scholarships that helped to pay the fees that were not paid in my tuition. This experience is not one commonly seen in a four-year institution.
Through the help of CCM, I was able to attain two Associate Degrees, one in Engineering Science and another in Biology. The education at CCM aided in molding me into a very competitive student. Through all this support and preparation, I was awarded a national scholarship and several CCM scholarships for my community service and campus life leadership, participated in federally funded tissue engineering research, and now attend Cornell University.
Although the only thing you may be missing out in is the opportunity to live on a campus your first two years, all other opportunities present at a four-year institution can be found here. If the struggle of transferring after CCM is of concern, there are formal agreements that exist between CCM and four year colleges and universities. The program-to-program agreements establish the course equivalences between them in an effort to ease the transfer process for students. Additionally, there is a state-wide transfer law that ensures that all students who graduate with an associate’s degree from one of New Jersey’s 19 community colleges, and transfer to a public college in New Jersey, will have their education their first two years counted towards a bachelor’s degree at any public, four year college or university.
This coming December, I will be graduating from Cornell University as a Biological Engineer and a MD-PhD hopeful. As a Colombian immigrant and Latina in STEM I can say that I am CCM Proud and that I started right.
Choosing where your path will take you the next several years of your life will take a lot of thought. When making this decision, do not forget that CCM may be a fantastic option for you. To put in perspective, just this month, American entrepreneur, television personality, media proprietor, and investor Mark Cuban said that “I've been conveying the message that community colleges are a great way to start your college career, and more often than not, the smarter way to do it”. Think about this advice and at the end of the day, make the smarter decision for you and your future.