Are you wondering how community college could be better than Harvard University? In this blog, we’re going to talk about why community college is awesome and on what metrics community college has a leg up on Harvard.
Don’t get us wrong: if you get into Harvard, you should probably go to Harvard over community college. We’re not going to be crazy here, but there are some metrics—especially when we zoom out and look at things from a societal level—by which community college is doing a service in our society that Harvard isn’t doing.
The first reason why Harvard isn’t as good as community colleges is that 96% of people who apply to Harvard get rejected. And community colleges are the inverse of that. If you’ve ever seen cheesy memes on Instagram that say things like “education should be open and free for everyone,” clearly Harvard didn’t get that memo because they reject almost everybody who wants to go there. For community colleges, if you’re eighteen years old and have a high school diploma, you qualify. If you think education is something that should be accessible to all, Harvard isn’t that, and community college is. It’s such an awesome and open pathway, and that’s what we love about community college. If you totally screwed up in high school, if your priorities were off, or if you messed up and got in lots of trouble, community college is there for you. And there are even programs that have things like guaranteed admission to four-year college programs if you get the right grades and stay in the right program at community college.
The second reason why community colleges are awesome compared to Harvard is that community colleges, overall, rank far higher than Harvard on average in terms of their ability to create economic mobility. The New York Times recently published really cool infographics based on a study that came out in 2017 by a guy named Raj Chetty, who is actually, ironically, out of Harvard, as well as several other authors. It provides a really comprehensive look at life outcomes and economic mobility according to where people graduated from. They found that 681 community colleges rank higher than Harvard on a metric called mobility, which is the measure that reflects both access and outcomes, predicting the percent chance of moving up two economic quintiles after attending this college.
Like we said earlier, 681 community colleges are doing a better job at lifting people up economically than Harvard, mostly because Harvard doesn’t let that many low-income people in. At Harvard, 15% of students on campus come from the top 1%, and 67% come from the top 20%. So you can see that two-thirds of the students at the school are from the wealthiest quintile of students in the country. And when you’re not letting in a ton of lower income students, only 4.5% of Harvard students are from the bottom-earning quintile. If you’re wondering what a quintile is, it’s basically taking all the people in the United States and cutting them into five groups according to income. So, it’s really hard to create lots of economic mobility if you’re not enrolling people who you can give that mobility to. Now, those that do enroll in Harvard do really well, but to be an engine of economic mobility, you first have to allow for access.
The third reason is that they are free or cheap for everyone. Now, it is true that if you are low-income and get into Harvard, it is probably one of the cheapest places to go to college in the country—that is, if you qualify for aid. For many people, the cost of a college education is overwhelming, even if they are supposedly wealthy enough to pay for it. Community college is free or cheap for literally everyone. The sticker price of Harvard’s tuition is $52,659 per year. At the average public, in-state community college, the sticker price is only $5,155 per year. There are also twenty states in which students can qualify for aid or even free community college. So do your homework and make sure you understand all of the factors that are going into it, and don’t discount colleges and universities that may have merit- or need-based aid. A lot of times, what seems like an expensive school is not nearly as expensive once you get your aid package. There’s a lot of nuance in here, and it’s not always the cheapest for some people, but on the whole, the idea that it is cheap for everyone is something that Harvard can’t claim to have and community colleges can.
You don’t need an elite school to have an awesome education. Elite schools are great if you can get in and if they pay a lot of money to you, but for the rest of us, it’s okay to get an education because you care about yourself and your mind and you want to make a better future for yourself. So, don’t give up and stay with it. There is a possibility for you if you work hard and get a degree, and if you study something where there are career opportunities, you can make a path for yourself.