By Ryan Thomas
Prospective students of community colleges don’t expect what those going to the bigger, circus-like schools do. Very often they approach their two year programs as stepping stones, not as thrilling four year finales to their formal education. The sensation of being adrift between the island of adolescence and the adult mainland seems to be dulled by this fact. Rather than a long booze cruise on which ignominy proceeds accolade and drive to validate oneself gives flight to unmatched hedonism, the students of community colleges paddle side by side and, workmanlike, find their way to the mainland.
Part of the drawback to the community college experience is a lack of extracurricular excitement. Boredom and ennui are all too common on community college campuses. Realistically, the community college experience will probably never rival the private institution for pure excitement and comradery. But hold the phone; this is not an open-and-shut case.
Former community college student Elliott New went to Greenfield Community College in the Connecticut River Valley in Western Massachusetts. He had more than a few things to say about why the extracurricular community college experience is not as interesting as it might be. New began his stint at GCC with the express purpose of fortifying his music theory. Asked about the apparently anemic enthusiasm and vitality on community college campuses, New said, “I think it’s built into the framework of those institutions. Most of the people I had class with, or was acquainted with, had a lot going on outside of college.”
This seems typical of the average community college student. At GCC, 64% of the student body is enrolled only part-time. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, two thirds of the national student body attends part-time. Most have jobs and or families to balance with their school lives. New believes that the interestingness or lack thereof of in community college life stems from this multi-tasking.
Frankly, many students just don’t have time to while away on campus, to get to know and hang out with their classmates.
The median age for GCC students, part-time or otherwise, is 23. The AACC reports the national average of community college students as 29. In the United States it’s generally believed that self-direction is honed with age, and that people become increasingly aware of what they want.
A 2012 New York Times article said, “At Penn State, 80% of freshmen — even those who have declared a major — say they are uncertain about their major, and half will change their minds after they declare…”
It’s easy to see that, given the comparative youth of students enrolled in four-year institutions, those who’ve chosen the community college path are probably better aligned with what they aim to get out of their time in school. This sort of intention and focus may increase the blinders effect — many students have a very narrow and business-like focus. At least in part, the listlessness of extracurricular campus activity can be attributed to said focus.
The AACC also states that half of all community college students take some courses before graduating from high-school. The sort of high schooler who spends his or her extra time on further study is probably less interested in having a rollicking-good time than in coming out more qualified for a particular career path.
The experiences of American college students, while homogenous in many respects, differ in some very stark ways. It’s news to no one: The tuition for a two-year community college program is a whole lot less than that of a four-year university program.
At the Community College of Vermont the cost per credit is $246. At the University of Vermont it’s roughly $611 per credit.
Most community colleges are commuter-only schools. This means no room and board costs and far fewer costly amenities like student lounges, campus centers, computer labs, and school organized entertainment. Community colleges cater to undergrads that, it’s fair to say, may not have the funds necessary to pay for an all-inclusive academic experience, the kind replete with stalag-like dorm-life, terrible dining hall food, and reckless partying piled on reckless promiscuity. It’s generally known that the extra dimes you drop to go to private institutions guarantees a certain measure of campus activity and entertainment. The evident boredom in community college life outside of class has got to owe something to its comparatively low cost. Prospective community college students are aware of this contrast, which maybe suggests a commitment to study before fun?
Sixty-five percent of students at community schools are first generation college attendants. You can bet that the hard work and single-minded focus requisite to move up in stratified America is present in these young adults. There’s no suggestion that the type that enrolls in community college is a tee totaling automaton, just that this type of student is perhaps more cognizant of the privilege they’ve been given.
Hazen McKinney, a graduate of Greenfield Community College, offered some contrary opinions. When asked to gauge the motivation of his classmates he had no concrete answer. One thing he was decisive about was that a lot of the people he met came off as slackers. According to McKinney, most griped about workload and were variously lacking in enthusiasm for their studies.
“Between classes people would play hacky sack at the different smoke shacks.”
McKinney said that one of the more popular pastimes on campus was smoking pot. He implied that as far as the entertainment value of marijuana goes is about how far extended many of these students’ fun and interest outside of the classroom.
McKinney described an English class in which the teacher, owing to near unanimous disengagement with the assigned text, yelled,
“’You’re not in high school anymore!’”
The sort of student that needs a reprimand like that might not be inclined to strive to make his or her time on campus as interesting as possible. What McKinney stressed most was this: The students who developed genuine friendships with classmates with shared academic interests had more fun both in and outside the classroom.