Community College Parent Forum: Honest Talk About Stigma and Costs

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Our town’s two high schools hosted a first-ever forum for parents featuring three area community colleges. Kudos to the Career Center Directors of the two high schools, Alice Gorman at Fairfield Roger Ludlowe H.S., Kate Lala at Fairfield Warde H.S. and the three Admissions Directors, Earl Graham of Housatonic Community College, Tony Carberry of Gateway Community College, and William Chagnon of Norwalk Community College, for coordinating the presentation. 

It was an eye-opening and honest talk among the career center directors, parents and admissions directors. Here are each of our points-of-views (POV) and please, please, we would love it if you read this post to the end:

Aimee’s POV:

The Great, the Good and the-not-so-great:

  • It was great to hear from the Career Center coordinator from the high school in the more affluent side of town say that the students’ feedback at the community college forum during the day was overwhelmingly positive – her students remarked on learning about the financial benefits of attending community college and the many degree programs offered.
  • The three Admissions officers have a collaborative, professional relationship by the well-coordinated PowerPoint presentation they gave.
  • Each featured one “success story student” in their formal presentation, as well as anecdotal stories
  • You will find professors from Yale, Fairfield University, Sacred Heart University who teach at each community college with the same materials they use at their other schools.
  • Each emphasized visiting the school with our child to interact with their students.
  • The parent response was overwhelmingly positive – I loved that there were 20 parents there on a rainy night, but…
  • I wish there were more parents there to be part of an honest discussion about the stigma in Fairfield County of going to community college. A few of us shared how teens get the message, “Community college is for losers.”

Biggest takeaways:

  • I learned what a “Transfer Agreement” is and that these community colleges have these agreements with many private and public colleges and universities.
  • Going to “junior college” or community college is more of a norm in other parts of the country
  • HCC offers high school partnership classes for free.
  • Career Center coordinators want to build on this partnership. They emphasized the “3 beautiful campuses. Go visit!” They were very responsive to these parent suggestions: putting this presentation on YouTube and their school TV show, having high school alumnus to speak to current students about community college benefits.
  • There needs to be another forum for parents: how to speak confidently and positively to your teens about financial realities without ever saying the words, “We can’t afford…” but rather, “We choose to spend our money on…”

Next Steps for me: Talk to other parents about what I learned. Work toward breaking down the stigma in affluent Fairfield County of going to community college. Currently, the oldest of my three children is a high school freshman. Hopefully, by the time she starts the application process, attitudes will have evolved in our favor.

Last words from Aimee: Let’s change the definition of what a good fit is when choosing the post-high school path. As Margaret Mead said,”Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

I also love this quote: “A good fit is a college that your parents can afford with a strong program in the field you want to study,” from an article I got from my chiropractor, by Robert Scherrer, a professor of physics and astronomy at Vanderbilt University.


student debt

Marilyn’s POV:

Quote from a parent after the community college presentation:

“I can finally sleep at night because I can afford this.”

I’ve been to two community college and two private college panel discussions in the past couple of months. All were eye-opening and I wanted to share my observations:

  • The audiences of the two community college panels were open, honest and transparent about the cost of college with themselves and with others.
  • My perception was that the audiences of the two discussions about private colleges appeared to be stressed, most likely about how to pay for college. (And I ran into one audience member afterwards who said she was saddened and her hopes were dashed after the private college talk.)
  • No one is willing to be open enough to discuss the costs and debt students will inevitably incur from four or more years of attending a private college.
  • The entire premise behind the community college discussion is about its affordability which naturally opens the lines of communication about financing.
  • And most important…it seems parents and kids do not know about the OTHER significant benefits of community college that go beyond affordability, ie: Transfer Agreements and the fact that SAT scores don’t matter to private colleges once you get through community college–they know you are a great candidate for their school if your community college GPA is high.

My biggest takeaway(s):

  • The cost-of-college conversation has to start early, at home with parents and guardians, discussing the realities of financing a college degree with their kids.
  • Kids have to realize they are the ones that will be saddled with some, most or all of the debt.
  • Many kids believe their parents are paying 100% of the cost of four-plus years of college.
  • The conversation needs to extend into the schools and into the community and only then will the stigmas about attending community college be eliminated.

Our next step: I’m not saying our road is easy when it comes to convincing our son on the benefits of community college. We plan to take our 16-year-old son, a sophomore, to each campus before he’s a junior—start him early! (We already took our daughter on a tour through Housatonic, and it was impressive—but she’s had her heart set on something else: cosmetology school!)

Last word from Marilyn: It’s a shame that our neck of the woods looks down on not only community college, but technical/vocational schooling, as well, where there is almost automatic and guaranteed job placement at decent salaries that could prevent a child from boomeranging back to living with mom and dad after college.

Consider this recent article, “100 Percent Job Placement, High Starting Pay in Community College Auto Tech Programs.” I love this article because my son has expressed interest in “owning a luxury car dealership.” We shall see, and am crossing my fingers–he’s only a sophomore. Here’s an excerpt of this article I will be sure to send him:

“Automotive service technicians are highly specialized, well-trained professionals, but people still think of mechanics as poor students who couldn’t cut it in college classes….the biggest challenge is changing the perceptions of students, their parents and guidance counselors at the high school level, who have all stigmatized automotive service technicians as grease monkeys. Technicians on modern Mercedes-Benz vehicles spend much of their time on computers,” says Steve Colburn, who coordinates organizational development and technical programs in Human Resources at Mercedes-Benz US International in Alabama. “They need to know about schematics and control units, wiring, CAN-BUS and FlexRay. They’re almost engineers.”

We will continue the conversation and report in as we go along this journey towards college. Thanks for reading and please do not hesitate to post your thoughts below. We know a lot of people read our blog and posts, but few people tend to comment, unfortunately, though we’d love it if there was more interaction.

~Marilyn & Aimee, TFF




6 thoughts on “Community College Parent Forum: Honest Talk About Stigma and Costs

  1. How far off the rails have we gone if a parent can’t sleep at night because of the cost of college? I live outside of Washington DC and know the pressure to impress. But at what cost to your sanity, bank account, future financial security? Luckily, my daughter got waitlisted at the most expensive private schools and we settled on our “humdrum” state school which has turned out to be a fantastic education with many networking opportunities for employment. My third child just transferred from community college to UMD – he needed the support and time to become a successful college student. At the end of the day, it is just not worth all the needless agony and pressure we put on ourselves. You have the power to make good and prudent decisions for yourself and your children – use it. And show them how to become independent thinkers. We need more of them. Best of luck in your college search!

    1. It’s quite the crazy train! Thanks, Kathleen, for sharing your kids’ experiences. It’s so helpful to us and our readers! Hope to hear from you again. ~Aimee, TFF

  2. Thank you for your positive feedback and sharing your and your husband’s success stories! It means a lot to us and our readers to see. Hope to hear from you again! ~Aimee, TFF

  3. Community colleges offer a building block so more people can begin their education with a certificate program, progress to an associate’s degree then onto further education. The beauty of the community college possibilities is everyone can sleep at night, because typically this avenue is affordable and doable for any person regardless of income, scored or grades. There is a lot of pressure for kids and families during the high school years and these options allow everyone to breathe easier.

    I sensed a practical approach to this when my daughter was faced with decisions. Even those who choose other avenues can use community colleges as part of their reality: should I choose debt with another school or should I choose this route? Even still, some choose community college for two years before transferring to a more expensive option. It’s nice to have choices.

    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, Robin. It makes a difference to us and our readers! Hope to hear from you again. ~Aimee, TFF

  4. My husband went to 2 years of community college (outside of Boston) and then transferred to a 4 year school where we live now (nyc). He will graduate this spring with a degree in Actuarial Science and less than $10k total in student loans. Community college, and him working full time while going to school full time, are key for lower income people looking to get an education without ending up massively in debt. Summer classes and winter interim classes are a good deal too, I graduated college in 3 years just by going straight through each summer (the first summer I was able to take everything at a community college and then get the credits transferred to my private college, so it also saved a ton of money). Glad to see this is all being discussed!

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