Community college education can compete

Community colleges always have faced the question – do students get as good a start on their college education as they would at four-year universities?

It’s a natural concern. After all, Monroe County Community College doesn’t have ivy-colored walls, famous lecturers, or Greek letters on big houses. There’s no championship football team.

What we do have is small classes with professors who concentrate on teaching, not research. We have hands-on opportunities to learn and one-on-one feedback.

As advisor to The Agora, I watch as students combine classroom instruction with practice on the newspaper and website, growing as journalists before my eyes.

They start out hardly understanding what constitutes news, let alone how to write a news story. Two years later, they’re well on their way to careers as journalists, writing solid news stories, sometimes on complicated topics.

When Asia Rapai took Intro to Journalism in the fall of 2008, she had no particular interest in journalism. She knew she liked to write and thought a journalism course would be fun. Her first story read more like an essay for a creative writing class.

Earlier this month, Asia was named editor-in-chief of the BG News, the student newspaper at Bowling Green State University, for the 2011-2012 school year.

That’s an amazing honor for a transfer student. Asia graduated last spring as MCCC’s Student of the Year, along with an armful of community college journalism awards.

But I’m sure she had doubts when she walked into the BG News for the first time in September. Would she be able to compete with students who had attended Bowling Green for their first two years?

Her selection as editor of Bowling Green’s student newspaper just seven months later answered those questions. Bowling Green has 300 journalism majors in a nationally ranked journalism program.

No one at MCCC is surprised at Asia’s success after transferring. She was a special student at MCCC, combining discipline, hard work and a sharp mind.

But she’s not that unusual. Lots of MCCC students go on to succeed at four-year universities – and at impressive careers. She is just doing it in a more visible way.

Asia’s success should serve as an inspiration for all Monroe County residents.

They can send their sons and daughters to MCCC, confident they will leave two years later prepared to succeed at a four-year university.

Members of The Agora staff also got a recent reminder that MCCC students compete well against their counterparts.

During the same week that Asia Rapai was selected to lead the BG News, Agora Editor Marissa Beste was named Student Journalist of the Year by the Michigan Community College Press Association.

Marissa and the rest of The Agora staff competed against student journalists from much larger community colleges – some with as many as 30,000 students. Marissa won five awards; overall nine Agora staffers won 18 awards.

Ironically, advisers of the student newspapers at Michigan community colleges have been arguing over whether to divide the competition into two divisions – so small community colleges could compete against each other, rather than in the same division as the larger schools.

Competing against community colleges like Washtenaw, Lansing and Grand Rapids, all with many times more students, The Agora staffers held their own, and their editor won the top individual award.

As they walked out of the conference, their heads were held high. There was no doubt in their minds they were getting a college education that competed.