Philosophy Professor Peter Bolland: In Defense of Community College

Philosophy Professor Peter Bolland.

Peter Bolland is philosophy and humanities professor and department chair at Southwestern College. To learn more about Bolland, visit

Say the words “community college” out loud. What gut reactions arise? Is “community college” a legitimate entry point to higher education or the punch line of a joke?

All of these college admissions scandals, where wealthy parents paid exorbitant bribes to grant their kids entrance to allegedly elite universities – there’s nothing like a brand name, right? – have got me thinking about the differences between colleges. Are they real? In the end, does it matter what college or university your sons and daughters go to? Community college will cost you a few hundred dollars a year, state universities will cost you a few thousand dollars a year, and an elite private university will cost you tens of thousands of dollars a year. But is the high cost worth it?

As you contemplate the choices, don’t overlook your neighborhood community college. They are a great place to complete the first two years of a four-year degree, for a fraction of the cost, and more importantly, in an arguably higher-quality, higher-impact learning environment. Would you rather have your easily distracted 19-year-old lost in a 300 seat lecture hall struggling to understand a chemistry lecture delivered by a professor with a lapel mic and a PowerPoint, or in a small classroom with one-on-one attention and real peer-to-peer experiential learning?

The groundless prejudice against community college is one of those unexamined assumptions that cloud the thinking of a lot of parents and students. Me? I guess I was attracted to the working class everyman vibe of the community college world, initially as a student, and later as a professor. Community college takes you as you are. It doesn’t put on airs. We don’t judge. We honor who you are, and we help you give birth to who you are longing to become. I’ve experienced community college from both sides of the lectern, and I have a pretty good grasp of what we do and how we do it. Maybe I can help. Let me write you a letter.

Dear Freaked Out Parents of High School Kids,

Hi. I’m a community college professor. It’s not that bad here. Really. It’s not. I don’t know what you’ve heard. In fact, it’s kind of amazing here.

Every day I get to walk onto a campus staffed with passionate, brilliant colleagues who put so much heart into their work it’d make you cry if you even knew the half of it. Every day I get to walk onto a campus where tens of thousands of students of every race, ethnicity, nationality, and temperament learn to work together, laugh together, learn together, and hold for each other a vision of their own best lives. I have never seen so much love in my life.

Community colleges are magical places where lives are transformed. I’ve seen it happen so many times – a radical awakening and dawning purpose arising in the hearts and minds of our students. It is an endless joy to see them find their feet and deepen into a commitment to a life of growth, service, wellness, prosperity, community, and engagement.

There is no way to generalize about our students. Every single one of them is an absolutely unique individual. And they have surprised me. Every time. Their resilience, their grace under pressure, their kindness, their generosity, their hard work, their dedication, their humility, and their vision absolutely blows my mind. Every. Single. Day.

After high school, I spent my first two years at a community college in the town where I grew up – Ventura College. There, my life was born when I walked into the philosophy classroom of Professor Barret Culmback. I took every class he taught. I became a philosophy professor because of him.

Dear parents, don’t be afraid of community college. Don’t believe the stigma. There are teachers here who will change your child’s life for the better, who will see them for who they really are, and who will help them give birth to their higher selves. That’s what we do. That’s what we do. Every. Single. Day.

They’re not going to get that kind of attention in a giant undergraduate lecture auditorium at an expensive university.

Send your kids to a two-year community college. Then when they transfer to a four-year-degree-granting institution, they’ll know why they’re there, and they’ll thrive.

After Ventura College, I finished my undergraduate work at UC Santa Barbara. Then onto grad school at San Diego State University. I have enjoyed all three of California’s higher educational systems – the CCs, the CSUs, and the UCs. They all have their strengths and charms. All three of them changed my life forever. But my community college is where it all started. Don’t deprive your children of the life-changing experiences awaiting them at your neighborhood community college. Please. Trust me. I know. I’m here every day. I see it. I feel it. I’m awash in it. And I’ve been here every day for 28 years. The magic is real.