“Bellevue College is not a community college,” is something I’ve often heard repeated during my time at BC. This, however, is a common misconception stemming from the official name change in 2009 from Bellevue Community College to Bellevue College. Despite the change, Bellevue College is still part of the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges and continues upholding its mission as a community college “to provide an open door to higher education to all who are eligible.”
The main reason cited for the name change was due to “People associat[ing] ‘community college’ with associate degrees only,” former Bellevue College president Jean Floten stated. Thus, when Bellevue College started to offer baccalaureate-level degrees, BC wanted a name that also represented the new programs being offered.
While this could be dismissed as a simple misinterpretation, a part of me wonders whether there are any other underlying reasons why so many students are enthusiastically promoting this view. It’s almost as if they’re saying: “No. Actually, I don’t go to a community college,” detaching themselves from the idea of studying at a community college because they feel that it’s something to be ashamed of.
Many of us were taught from a young age that not all universities are equal. Academic elitism is the phenomenon in which an individual’s education is exclusively defined by the prestige of the institution they attend. It plays a crucial role in propagating the stigma towards community colleges. This elitism is profoundly embedded in our society, encouraging the assumption that attending a prestigious university guarantees success, while attending a community college suggests inadequacy or failure.
Education is not something that is quantitative. It is a highly personal experience that cannot be put into a definitive ranking. Yet countless listicles and ranking websites rank institutions based solely on prestige, continuing the cycle of toxic academic elitism. The narrative that community colleges are inferior to other higher education institutions is damaging to both how employers may view students and how students view themselves.
As a first-generation student that had never really succeeded in school, Bellevue College has given me a much-needed second chance in my academic journey. Community colleges serve as gateways to better opportunities for individuals who may have faced financial, academic or any other challenges in pursuing higher education. By providing these opportunities, community colleges enable more individuals to flourish, ultimately fostering a more inclusive and diverse workplace. This diversity, in turn, fuels innovation and growth.
It is essential to recognize the stigma surrounding community colleges as a result of academic elitism and to challenge these preconceived notions. It’s time we unlearn the “community college is an inferior form of higher education” narrative that society has been spoon-feeding us. Everyone deserves a chance at higher education, no matter where you come from or what your background is.
You are not defined by the school you go to. Just because you are a Bellevue College student does not mean you are any less than others who attend traditional 4-year institutions. As I end my journey at Bellevue College, I am proud to be part of this community, and you should never be ashamed, no matter what society might tell you.