We often forget that our community is not only the product of our collective work but that our community also builds us as individuals and provides us with resources to achieve our goals.
A large part of that community is our community colleges.
There are many advantages to attending a community college as a Latinx and a person of color — from the chance to find your passion to rubbing elbows with colleagues with whom you share interests and like-minded ideas.
Knowing how important it is to invest time and resources in these pillars of the Hispanic community, BELatina spoke with Latino students from across the country who have attended community colleges and wanted to share their experiences with us.
Making the right decision takes time
A community college is an affordable option for navigating academic life and a first opportunity that can open up many more.
According to Forbes, “If you start at a two-year school, earning your general education credits or getting an associate degree, and completing half the credits usually needed for a four-year degree, you could save $10,000 or more, depending on where you attend school.” This allows you to try out classes and figure out what you really want to do without the pressure of spending money in the wrong places.
Exploring your options
“I was the first in my family to attend college, and I was completely lost with what classes to take – and believe me, I took a lot of unnecessary classes, but attending a community college helped me figure out what I wanted to major in, and I saved a lot of money,” first-generation Latinx graduate Pamela Zamudio tells us about her experience at El Camino Community College in Los Angeles, California.
Unlike state or private universities, community colleges allow you to explore your options without the pressure of a lifetime investment of thousands of dollars.
Also, being a smaller institution, there are likely to be more professors willing to give you the time and attention to guide you in your academic career.
“Community colleges give you the opportunity to grow at your pace and learn what works best for you. Once I transferred to a four-year university, I realized that my time at Miami-Dade College was truly a gift,” our own Senior Deputy Editor Guisell Gomez shares on her community college experience. “The staff, professors, and administrators do, for the most part, care about providing you with the right tools to succeed. This was evident in their vast schedules because they knew some of their students had jobs or were parents and couldn’t attend until later at night, the accessibility of information and how present the sense of community always was. At least, that was my experience.”
“Some people might think community colleges ‘spoon feed’ their students as some of my professors would tell me at the university, but the reality is that it’s nice to have someone take the time to explain how to navigate college life, especially for first-gen students because Lord knows I knew nothing about it – my parents never went to college and my hole-in-the-wall Catholic school solely focused on shoving prayer down our throats,” Gómez added. “Besides, community college makes sense financially because it gives you credits at a cheaper rate and that can be transferred to most four-year universities.”
When guidance is critical
I attended a community college that had provided me with the EOPS (Extended Opportunity Programs & Services), where I’d meet up with a counselor who mapped out my community college career and would periodically schedule appointments to make sure I was on top of things.
EOPS also provided me with school supplies on top of their counselor’s advice. The state-funded program “provides academic and developmental services to students who face social and economic barriers. EOPS is committed to providing student support services such as priority registration, personalized counseling, grants & book assistance, tutoring, one-on-one staff support, and much more.”
For me, it was a hidden gem that I was lucky enough to find and take advantage of, and I recommend, with eyes closed, checking in your college for programs such as this!
“I, myself, am a first-generation college graduate. I can honestly say that it is important to take advantage of the resources available to you, such as meeting with counselors, accessing mentors and tutors, and even attending study sessions with peers at the library,” Vanessa Fernandez, who attended East Los Angeles Community College in Los Angeles, California, tells BELatina News. “I also learned that Community Colleges could help in other ways, like linkage to community resources and programs to help low-income students get grants and also help with paying utilities and/or housing.”
There is nothing wrong with starting in a community college, and it’s time to rewrite those potential negative implications surrounding that pathway.
“Attending a community college allowed me to learn, grow, and explore. It gave me the space and the support to find my path towards my academic goals. I am trying to normalize attending a community college,” Perez the Advisor expresses to us about his experience and long-term goal as a school advisor. “There’s a lot of stigmas attached to attending a community college, and I am trying to break that. Showing that it is a great pathway for students, just like it was for me. There’s a lot of retention programs that can be very supportive for Latinx students’ persistence, not to mention the cost can be a great option for many.”
There is no doubt that we shouldn’t ignore the effectiveness of community colleges, especially to find colleagues that share your same interests.
“Through classes and similar interests, I was able to feel included in the Latinx community. Being able to attend small campus events, like talks with local activists, Pow Wows, and Farmers Markets allowed me to interact with peers outside of the classroom,” Fernandez recalls. “It’s great because you are able to build your own support system on campus.”
So, remember to weigh out your options, and in doing so, look into potential resources that community colleges have to offer. There’s more than meets the eye!