Smashing the Stigma Around Community College

November 1, 2019 

Have you ever heard someone say that community college is not “real” college? Or maybe—even worse—it’s college for dummies? For some reason, we have developed a social image of community college as second class. While attending an Ivy League like Harvard or Yale is something to take pride in, going to community college is something to be ashamed of and to hide away. But that stigma is not only silly and wrong; it’s also deeply rooted in classism.

Why the Stigma?

One of the reasons why community college stigma has taken such a stronghold is our social love for competition. Let’s face it: we live in a capitalist society. Inherent to survival in our culture is the idea of  besting our competitors. We thrill from competition; whether that means cheering for our favorite football team, or winning an election or art contest. While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying your favorite sports team or having ambitions, there is something wrong with determining the value of a school by the degree of difficulty it takes to get accepted. In fact, a school’s purpose is to teach. Therefore, its value comes from the quality of its curriculum, and the dedication teachers have to the students. Community colleges may not have a competitive admissions process, but they certainly have intriguing and essential classes led by passionate teachers.

Community colleges also cost less. Another value embedded in our capitalist society is the notion that cost equals worth. While this equation sometimes holds true, that’s usually only for material goods. Yeah, if you pay a little more money for clothing made from better materials, it might last longer and look better. But the same is not true for school. In fact, there are many incredible teachers who choose community colleges because they want to reach a wider population. At many four-year universities, professors also have publication and research expectations that can take their focus away from their teaching duties. But at community colleges, teaching students is the number one priority for faculty. So that higher pay that comes out of your hefty university tuition? It might not be benefiting you as much as you think, after all.

Why Community College?

Ironically, some of the reasons community colleges face such enormous stigma are also the reasons why they are such a great fit. First of all, community colleges don’t have a competitive admissions process. Yes, they do have admissions requirements, which typically center around having a high school degree or equivalency, and proof of residency. You will also likely have to take English and math placement exams, to determine what classes you should be starting with, and whether you could use a refresher before going on to the college-level courses.

Because community colleges don’t have competitive admissions processes, you don’t have to agonize and worry about presenting yourself in the best light, or whether you will get accepted. Of course, if you’re applying for a merit scholarship then you still may have to write that essay—but that’s your choice. The admissions itself is pretty straightforward. Which is especially great for those recovering from a substance use disorder. If you dropped out of high school and got a GED, for example, you will be celebrated, not judged, for continuing on to community college. Huge gaps in your school or employment history also won’t hold you back.

And then, of course, there’s the cost. A lot of people choose to get their Associates degree by completing two years at a community college, then move on to a four-year institution. That’s because community colleges are considerably less expensive than both private and public four-year schools. If you don’t have a ton of money saved, you won’t have to break your back paying for community college. And you may qualify for need-based grants and scholarships (which don’t have to be paid back) or loans (which do). Some community colleges, like the Community College of Philadelphia, are even able to offer free tuition to eligible students (they usually have to be graduating directly from high school).

After all is said and done, stigma is nothing more than a scary mask. Behind it, there’s a completely different face that might be far more beautiful and worthwhile than you’d ever imagined. Community college offer passionate teachers, interesting and informative classes to students of any creed or economic status. They offer a great alternative or stepping stone to four-year-schools.

The Ammon Foundation believes that when individuals are holistically and strategically supported to build purposeful lives, the likelihood of them maintaining their recovery substantially increases. We provide this support via our Ammon Recovery Scholars Program. Our program goals include: removing financial barriers through financial scholarships; providing strategic support for recipients through offering personal, professional and academic support; and creating a supportive peer community committed to combating the stigma associated with addiction by promoting that recovery is possible. We are committed to giving away at least $100,000 in scholarships annually and are looking to fund education as a stepping stone to stable employment, safe housing and adequate healthcare. To find out more about our programs, or to apply for an educational scholarship, please click here or email