What do you do when a history of practical postsecondary education runs rampant with negative stereotypes? Countless community colleges across the country face that exact question today, and these institutions have to get creative to showcase their validity in the higher education space.

First established as a result of the Morrill Act signed into law by Abraham Lincoln in 1862, community college served a practical purpose. The goal was to balance traditional university studies with more easily applicable subjects like military training, mechanics, and agriculture. Community college also aimed to provide equal education opportunities to all, regardless of socioeconomic status.

Today, that purpose still stands. Unfortunately, community colleges also exist with extensive negative stereotypes. As one researcher put it,

“A lot of students believe they are too good for community college, or they could never attend there because their parents expect better or their peers will make fun of them… Some of the main reasons why someone is considering a college are cost, distance from home, and the programs that they offer… Community college stigma can impact the college choice decision just as much as a lot of these primary factors.”

The results are potentially disastrous. Despite their lower cost and transitional programs to four-year degrees, community colleges continue to face steep enrollment declines. However, there is a way to fight these stereotypes.

In fact, some institutions are finding creative ways to counter community college stigma and attract new students. In this guide, we’ll cover three of the most common community college stereotypes, and how three institutions are working to combat them.

Stigma #1: Affordability = Low-quality programs

Community colleges are often more affordable than a four-year institution. Even when comparing its tuition to only the first two years of a four-year degree, the average student pays less than half to attend a community college.

Unfortunately, studies show repeatedly that consumers tend to equate high quality with high price. That’s especially true for complex purchasing decisions:

“Through the field studies, experiments and secondary data, the researchers found that when consumers perceive greater variance among brands, it increases their reliance on price as a cue to judge quality.”

In other words, the lower sticker price of attending a community college means that the education must be of lower quality, or worth less. Yet studies actually find the academic quality at community colleges to be much higher than the public might think.

Trying to counter this stigma is hard work, but it is possible.

For instance, Bristol Community College offers an in-depth look at its more than 130 programs and certificates through its virtual tour, highlighting the breadth of opportunities available for students. Programs from health and science to theater, culinary arts, and nursing give students extensive options that rival some four-year institutions.


Stigma #2: Small campus = Limited fun and student life

Student life is a vital decision factor for prospects looking for the right college. Few things in life can replace the lifelong bonds and friendships shaped through years of living and working together in the same space.

It’s no surprise, then, that four-year institutions tend to go heavy on student life and community in their recruitment efforts. Community colleges have a comparative disadvantage, thanks to smaller and more spread-out campuses that attract a wider demographic.

Thinking that this means community college doesn’t offer the same type of community feeling and campus atmosphere, though, is another negative stereotype that doesn’t necessarily hold true. Community colleges might be predominantly commuter schools, but the demand for housing solutions is growing.

As a result, some community colleges are entering partnerships with neighboring four-year universities that allow their students to access more student services, live on campus, and more. And there are other techniques that are even more straightforward to counter this stigma.

Sinclair Community College, for instance, has made a conscious effort to showcase not just its campus but its neighboring community. Multiple stops in its virtual tour highlight downtown Dayton, showing just how closely the school is involved with the surrounding city. The message is clear: students here are not just members of the school, but part of the very fabric of Dayton.

Stigma #3: Two-year degrees = Just a stepping stone

Community colleges with two-year programs often get swept under the rug as just a stepping stone to a “better” four-year university. Prospective students know they can get most of their prerequisite credits under their belts for less money at community colleges and then move on to what they really want to study at another school.

What people often don’t understand, however, is that two-year community colleges offer benefits that four-year universities can as well.

Take it from Yeprem Davoodian, Department Chair of Communication Studies & Director of Honor Transfer Programs at Los Angeles Pierce College. We recently hosted a video podcast with Davoodian in which he outlined the different ways that Pierce College is worth looking into.

Although Pierce holds the #1 ranking in Transfer Admission Rate to UCLA and holds the same position in transfer rates for multiple other four-year California universities, they are much more than a stepping stone. At Pierce, students can not only get their associate degree in two years, but they can start their college careers learning subjects they’ll actually want to study at a four-year university.

For instance, the top skills, achievements, and completion certificates at Pierce College include the following: accounting, preschool teaching, automotive technician, medical assistant, EKG technician, and workplace success. Seems like a whole lot more than just completing credits for the sake of completing credits.

Davoodian also outlined several virtual and physical events that Pierce prioritizes to foster community and comradery, including their “jam sessions” in which they discuss several different topics of interest among the students.

Overall, Pierce College is so much more than a means-to-an-end school. Spending time understanding students and fostering their academic growth is a huge priority for them. The team understands that in order to connect with students of all different demographics and generations, listening and connecting with students and meeting them where they are with communication is paramount.

The long but fruitful work to counter community college stigma

Insiders already know the benefits of community colleges. They are affordable, foster tightly-knit communities, and sometimes offer more convenient education for students looking to enroll in a high-quality school with high-quality programs. Unfortunately, communicating this can be difficult with persistent negative stereotypes. Overcoming them is hard work, but that work is well worth the effort.

To reverse the damage, communication is key. Showcasing the uniqueness and beauty of your community college campus helps, especially with virtual tools. Shifting the focus from stigma to the benefits your school has to offer can go a long way.

That’s where we come in.

Concept3D has done extensive work with community colleges across the nation, and we want to help you virtually showcase your community college campus.

Want to learn more about the communications tools we have available for you to potentially reverse the negative stereotypes of community colleges and increase enrollment?

Showcase all that your campus has to offer with Concept3D 360° Tours.

Interested in learning how we have helped over 650 clients boost their admissions numbers?

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