Re: Higher Education; Or, Bitch, Please

Re: Higher Education; Or, Bitch, Please

For awhile (as in last year), I went through a phase where I wanted to marry a professor.

Not one of my professors, thank you. I’m not that creepy. Rather, someone may age who is/is becoming a professor, and years down the road, like when I’m at least 25 or whatever.

Anyway, so the professor-type was my dream guy. Brown blazer, bit of a beard, old leather briefcase, button-ups, hipster glasses, the whole shebang. English professor, of course.

But then I started thinking a bit more about who exactly this professor would be. Sure, I’d want him to be smart and published, but who would want to marry a Harvard professor who is all pretentious and walks around stroking his beard and pretending to do research and shit?  So that’s when I came to the conclusion that I want to marry an utterly nerdy, adorable English community college professor.

Why community college?

The way I see it, they’re probably teaching at a community college for one of two reasons. 1. Because they couldn’t get a job at a “better” college. Or:  2.Maybe they teach at a community college for the same reasons people teach at inner-city public schools… because they respect education, and they respect that these students who perhaps aren’t the brightest per say, or perhaps come from a more difficult or unsupportive background, are still trying to get an education and better themselves.

And what’s more adorable than a self-sacrificing English professor in nerdy glasses?

I didn’t grow up in a particularly wealthy family, or one of legacies. Both my parents went to state schools. My brother and I went to a magnet grade school, where we were lucky enough to receive an amazing education, and then he went to the local public high school and I followed my sister to the local private Catholic high school. This was simply by choice, not related to our differing levels of intelligence—because in fact my brother is actually way smarter than me.

I ended up transferring for my senior year because of financial reasons, after spending my junior year abroad in France. The transition was tough at first because the atmosphere at the schools was so different, but I ended up liking my public high school much better than my private one. Students at the private school were nice enough and I did make friends there, but the atmosphere was overall horrible for my self-esteem because it seemed like everyone came from mansions in the suburbs. And this wasn’t even Andover or Exeter! (Also, I was 14-years-old, and what 14-year-old girl ever has good self-esteem?) There’s only so much one can take regarding others’ financial status, Ivy League legacy status, and ACT/SAT/IQ scores—and being from Minnesota, we recognize bragging even when it’s indirect. It may be called the “Minnesota Nice” but it’s really the “Minnesota Passive-Aggressive.”

St. Paul may be tiny, but it’s still a city, and one can definitely find significant traces of the “inner-city public high school” connotation within all of its public high schools. Although this caused for a negative atmosphere at times, it didn’t really matter. The friends I made, my friends from grade school, and my parents expected my brother and I to excel. Not only that, but we expected that of ourselves. If my friends and I ever felt discouraged by the fact that the nearby private school had more “name recognition” among college admissions offices, we told ourselves that it’s more impressive to be getting an A from a public school than from a pampered private school, anyway. (They probably inflate their grades, we said.) We had to work hard to even get noticed since all the attention was on keeping control of the trouble-makers. It was also a point of pride that the other closest public high school had more students going to Ivy Leagues and elite private universities than the private high school, from which most students went to the University of Minnesota or the local private, Catholic college that’s about two miles away from their high school.

That said, what’s wrong with the University of Minnesota or a local college anyway? Oh, wait—nothing.

There are pros and cons to every type of higher education out there.

The itty-bitty liberal arts college, such as mine, draws its beneficial differences from its professor to student ratio, and its usual lack of a graduate program. These schools pride themselves on a lack of teaching assistants, on students being able to actually get to know their professors personally, on students being able to visit office hours and have one-on-one time with the professors, a lack of large lectures, etc.

Of course, there’s a downfall to this: pampered, spoiled, lack of independence. I’ve gone ahead and discussed my essay ideas with my professors before writing the essay for almost every paper I’ve been assigned in college. I think this is great, but I also recognize that it’s a level of coddled-ness that could arguably be detrimental to my development.

Small, private colleges are also often criticized for their lack of diversity. This varies school to school, of course, but I agree that one can generally make the assumption the students at private colleges will be whiter and financially better off than those students found at public universities and community colleges. This is also obviously detrimental to one’s development and one’s education, since it means that less outside opinions will be introduced in class.

I spoke to a friend of mine who studies English at the University of Minnesota to learn more about the large university experience. Although Amanda Brown explained that sometimes she wishes she went to a more liberal arts-friendly school (because the U of M is becoming more science and technology focused), she would never trade her experience for that of a smaller college like mine.

In talking about the benefits of studying English at a large university, she mentioned diversity, teaching assistants (“they’re younger and more approachable”), and the greater variety of academic opportunities—everything private liberal arts colleges usually can’t offer. She also pointed out that it simply takes more of the student’s own initiative to meet up with professors face-to-face—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it teaches one how to be assertive and independent.

“Originally, I wanted to become a nurse,” Amanda says. “I would have never become an English major if I didn’t attend a university with a mass amount of options. It gave me the chance to explore what I was interested in.

“The larger setting allows me to have more options in who I consult for reviews and for help. Studying English at a public university, I don’t feel like I have any restraints on the topics I choose to explore and write about. Along with that, I also enjoy the diverse group of people I get to collaborate with; this allows for so many different viewpoints to be shared that I end up leaving my discussion sections with a lot more perspectives than I could ever imagine.”

Sure, the more expensive, the more private the university is, the better the education may be. Harvard is going to be better than University of Minnesota-Duluth. And sure, it may look better on a resume. But the thing is, it doesn’t really make that big of a difference. The school isn’t everything. Just because I went to a public high school didn’t mean I was bound to end up dropping out like a quarter of my freshman class. Just because Amanda goes to a public university doesn’t mean that she’ll get a worse job than me. It’s the person who really matters. This is more evident than ever in college.

I could’ve easily gone to the University of Minnesota or University of Wisconsin instead of my small liberal arts school—I got accepted to both, and they’re both amazing schools. In fact, I probably would have ended up at a public school if it wasn’t for the generous financial aid package I received from my current college. Knowing myself, even if I had gone to a public school instead of a private school, I still believe that I would be at the same point I am today—blogging for a literary magazine, studying abroad, interning as only a junior at a publishing company—because that’s the ambitious, intelligent kind of person I am.

I imagine that it’s only the people who lack confidence in their personal abilities to learn, be ambitious, push themselves, etc. who are worried about what kind of college they attend.

Amanda similarly spoke when discussing what she believes makes for a valuable college education, except instead of naming the student as the one who makes or breaks the experience, she referred to the professors.

“I know students from community colleges and they enjoy the things they are working on because of the instructor,” she says. “The instructors are the ones that control the value of the education, and it can be obtainable through various colleges and institutions.”

The way capitalism works, not everyone is able to have the “best” jobs and the “best” education. There always has to be a group of people that work the minimum-wage jobs, the mechanical jobs, the agricultural jobs, the industrial jobs, etc. Everyone is necessary, from the CEO to the janitor, in making the country run. Thinking this way, one could argue that there should ideally be a sense of equality in that all jobs are important and necessary. (Of course, the debate as to whether an economic system that inherently creates classism is a good thing is a whole other topic.)

Unfortunately, this is not the case in real life. Not only are there racial and classist differences between those at the “higher-tier” and “lower-tier” jobs, but there is a stigma attached to the “lower-tier” ones: that you’re lazy, stupid, and should be ashamed of yourself.

One of the reasons community colleges were invented was in order to provide an educated work force for these more blue-collar jobs. In his article “Growth of an American Invention: From Junior to Community College,” Thomas Diener examines the development of the community college and its role in American society:

As the country became more heavily industrialized, as business and commerce expanded, the need for trained technicians, accountants, and clerical personnel increased rapidly. […] Some early junior colleges began their work as technical and vocational colleges. More likely an institution beginning as a junior college would add vocational programs to its existing transfer programs. The vocational or job training function became, especially by the 1930s, an important portion of the mission of many junior colleges.

Not only that, but Diener goes on to explain that community colleges also took on the responsibility of providing an education to those who would miss out on one in institutions that cater towards the upper-middle class:

[The community college] represents the American-built opportunity for a greater variety of individuals to develop and cultivate their talents and skills more fully than any other educational institution. It is the setting in which part-time, low-income, and working citizens enjoy equal educational opportunity with their full-time, middle-class, and affluent counterparts.

Someone close to me attended a community college for a semester after taking a semester off of college due to mental health issues. This someone is also actually the smartest person I know. He is a genius. This time was tough because the classes were too easy for him and he was unable to connect with his peers. I was in California at the time, and wasn’t able to speak with him much, but I am sure that this time was frustrating, discouraging, and perhaps even shameful since technically he felt that he didn’t “belong” in a community college. And, generally, now that he’s healthy, I’d probably agree with him.

But at that point of time, did he belong elsewhere? Was he “better” than his community college peers?


Because of his health state, he was unable to attend a public or private university at that point of time. He belonged at a community college just as much as those other students who were also unable to attend public or private universities, even if his IQ begged to differ. And although he may have been depressed over the situation, I can’t say I ever heard him complain that he was a better person than the college or his peers. He just did his best to keep his head up, recover, and make the best of his situation, which was definitely a shitty one.

Everyone has a different path to community college—maybe some had health problems through no fault of their own; maybe they had health problems because of bad choices they made earlier in their life. Maybe they grew up in an unsupportive family and a rough neighborhood. Maybe they just don’t like school and want to spend their time doing something else they love, like playing guitar. Maybe they grew up in a poor, uneducated neighborhood—and it’s a source of pride that they’re going to college at all.

Community colleges help gap the bridge between social classes, and give opportunities to those who are not just worse-off financially or perhaps (yes, I’ll say it) intellectually, to those who have to work while attend college, and to those who have or have had mental health issues, such as learning disorders, mild autism, depression, PTSD, and so on. They are a necessary and admirable part of society, and those who think otherwise are, well, not so admirable.

Believing you’re better than your peers is never appropriate, unless you want to turn people off and appear like the 1% (to use a popular phrase these days). And even if you can’t help but think and feel that way… basically, no one wants to hear about it, because you’re still better off than many people in this country. Not only that, but the attitude that you’re better than others and your college will just lead to over-confidence in academic work, a negative attitude, and judgment of others—all things that will negatively affect anyone’s college experience. Even if you’re in community college for reasons out of your control—look around your classroom. I guarantee you many of your peers are also in community college for reasons out of their control.

Do they belong there anymore than you?