Thursday, September 3, 2015

Community College Is Real College -- Just Ask Tom Hanks

Earlier this year, the New York Times published a personal essay by Tom Hanks, in which he nostalgically recounts his experiences at Chabot College in the mid-1970s. Chabot is a community college in northern California, and at the time Hanks attended, it was "all free but for the effort and the cost of used textbooks." No doubt the textbooks were way cheaper then, too.

As a community college professor, I was touched by Hanks's insistence that the open accessibility of his college didn't make it any less authentic of a college experience. He emphasizes both the diversity of the classes and the student body, and underscores what a transformative experience it was for him. While not every class was a gem (which is certainly the case at any college), many stayed with him for years, and one--Herb Kennedy's "Drama in Performance"--changed his life. Ultimately, Hanks concludes, community college "made me what I am today."

Hanks uses his personal experience, along with a concise bit of argumentation, to endorse President Obama's plan to subsidize community college tuition for all students who can keep their GPA above a 2.0. This proposal seems to have stalled since it was first announced, but I hope that Congress will eventually see the wisdom behind such an investment. As Hanks notes, community is real college, and it's the only kind of college that's accessible to many aspiring students. Why not make it a possibility for even more?

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