Societal Stigma Surrounding Community College

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With the looming threat of a recession, community college appears to be an attractive option for many people seeking higher education (Potter, 2023). Community colleges have already been popular options, with nearly half of all undergraduates enrolled in higher education, which is over 8.5 million students (AACC, 2016). Despite community college being a popular choice for many people, a stigma remains in people’s decision to attend community college due to the large acceptance rate and it being perceived as not as prestigious as a four-year school. This can only end by promoting it as a more viable option in high school and making it more accessible for students to transfer once they have completed community college.

Stigma Featured In Community College

Stigma is defined as discrediting someone and is known as a mark of shame (Link, 2001). The psychology behind the formation of a stigma is that it can be formed by singling out certain human differences and associating negative attributes with them (Link, 2001). Therefore, since community college is easier to attend and get into, most people assume those who attend community college are less intelligent (Gauthier, 2020).

Since there might be a stigma attached to attending community colleges, as seen by Gauthier (2020), this could affect their academic performance. A study followed 4,481 Latin-American community college students from 2003-2008 throughout America. In these five years, almost half of the students dropped out or had yet to transfer, only 8% had gotten a degree and enrolled, and only 21% transferred, with some people still enrolled in community college (Porchea, 2010).  The reasons behind this statistic is due to socioeconomic status, degree expectations, environmental factors such as a supportive household. The National Student Clearinghouse estimates that only 40% of community college students graduate due to a lack of student readiness from high school (Goldrick-Rab, 2016).

Reducing Stigma

Some high school and community college students require remedial classes. When students are told they are attending a remedial class, it creates an idea in their heads that they are less than their peers in terms of intelligence, further developing their own stigma associated with attending community college (Goldrick-Rab, 2016). In a study of 804 participants with students from an Illinois community college, students who attend stigma-free remedial classes by not stating it is a remedial class tend to have higher confidence in their ability to get a community college degree. From the study, about 93.3% of students who attended a remedial class believed they were likely or very likely to earn a degree, illustrating their belief that they could perform well in an academic setting (Rosenbaum, 2007). This shows that when there is no stigma attached to community college, students will be assured about their academic performance, leading to better academic performance in community college. Furthermore, the study found that confidence is the best predictor of achievement in mathematics and English and creates other self-beliefs that are good predictors of achievement, such as self-efficacy (Stankov, 2012). Lack of stigma and confidence in oneself are crucial determinants of success in community college and life, which is why it is imperative to eliminate the stigma surrounding community college.

Future Steps

Sigma surrounding community college starts at the high school level, negatively impacting current high school students who choose to attend community college. One-quarter of counselors at private schools believe community colleges are stigmatized, and counselors all over America have a negative attitude toward the academic rigor of community colleges, as demonstrated by a study of 16,252 high schools that surveyed 2,251 high school counselors. Additionally, while high school counselors have felt confident advising students about community colleges,  many have felt less knowledgeable about transfer policies surrounding community colleges and four-year colleges, which makes it challenging for high school students to feel more confident about a decision to attend community college (Clinedinst, 2020). This makes it imperative that there are enough counselors who are educated about the policies and opportunities associated with a community college to support high school students as they make decisions about their future and inform them about community college possibilities.

Going forward, transferring from community college needs to be more accessible. As mentioned earlier, very few community college students feel comfortable continuing their higher education due to the difficulty of transferring credits. On average, students lose 43% of credits when transferring from one higher education institution to another and even when credits are accepted, they may only be utilized as elective credit instead of major credit (United States Government Accountability Office, 2017). Therefore to ensure students feel more comfortable attending community college and potentially transferring, it is essential that community colleges and four-year institutions work together to create transfer policies that motivate students to succeed instead of making them feel community college is pointless.

Successful Programs

To decrease stigma, community colleges must implement programs that make students feel they are getting similar opportunities to those in four-year colleges. Some community colleges in America have already implemented programs similar to this, such as the College of the Siskiyous, a publicly funded community college in a rural California mountain town. This college is aware that students may struggle to have field experiences, which is why the college tries to provide  those experiences in its classes. For instance, the Environmental Science major has a requirement to fulfill a discipline-related science research or work-related project (Robin, 2022). Likewise, there was the establishment of the Community College Undergraduate Research Initiative (CCURI) in 2007, a national network of 142 community colleges in 39 states and two countries to establish solutions to create research at the community college level. However, more must be done to broaden participation in this program as there are 935 public community colleges (Duffin, 2022), meaning roughly only 15% of colleges are a part of this program. Community colleges must provide more practical experience opportunities. Therefore, to improve community college students' experience and reduce their feelings of stigma, there needs to be further implementation of CCURI and fieldwork in students’ curriculum.


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Stankov, L., Lee, J., Luo, W., & Hogan, D. J. (2012). Confidence: A better predictor of academic achievement than self-efficacy, self-concept and anxiety? Learning and Individual Differences, 22(6), 747–758.

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