By Sarah Ford | Sonoma Sun
It’s that time of year, when Sonoma Valley High School (SVHS) seniors turn their sights to their plans for the fall, whether it is college, a job, or some other path.
Many people don’t realize that while upwards of 90 percent of SVHS seniors head to college, more than half of those choose to attend Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC).
But as one student who is going to the JC in the fall admitted, “I am kind of embarrassed when I say I’m going to the JC.” Another student who is JC-bound said, “There definitely is a stigma.” Many others agreed. So why do so many SVHS students feel there is a stigma attached to choosing to go to SRJC rather than a four-year college?
Lisa Conner, head of the high school’s College and Career Center, finds this frustrating. “We have one of the best junior colleges in the state,” she said. “Many of our students feel because it is so close to Sonoma, that means it isn’t a great choice.”
One student wondered if the stigma might be due in part to the fact that some of the students heading to the JC are not academically oriented. Another wondered if there is less prestige because there is not a highly competitive application process. Conner said she and the school’s counselors try to guide students towards the option that is the best fit for the student and the family.
Financial considerations are the most-cited reasons students give for choosing the JC. Senior Audrey Castillo said, “I don’t want my parents to have to pay for my college when they paid for their own. I’m determined to do it myself.” Headed to the JC, working, and living at home will allow her to save money for further education. She will major in Communications Sciences at the JC, and hopes to transfer to San Diego State, which is strong in her areas of interest.
A strong selling point for SRJC is that, through the Doyle Scholarship Program, any student with at least a 2.0 GPA in high school will receive $600 for tuition – essentially a free ride. This was recently expanded from one year to two.
Another little-known fact is that if you apply to transfer to a UC after two years at the JC, assuming you meet the GPA requirements, your application is given preference over students applying to transfer from other colleges. Moreover, there is a UC Transfer Admission Guarantee (TAG) program whereby six UCs will automatically admit any JC student with a qualifying GPA. These schools are UC Davis, Irvine, Merced, Riverside, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz.
Nick Fitzpatrick, SVHS class of 2014, earned several Associate Degrees from SRJC and, after a year at San Diego’s Mesa Community College to fill in some gaps, applied to UC Berkeley and was accepted. He is now a junior studying Sustainable Environmental Design. About the JC, he said he enjoyed having more choice to “take classes that actually interested me.”
Max Szanyi graduated from SVHS in 2017 and worked for a year before attending the Petaluma campus of SRJC, where he is doing his General Education classes. “The JC has been a great opportunity to explore classes that are of interest to me. I welcome the opportunity to feel like I am learning and thinking versus just passing tests. My professors have been supportive and interesting. Attending the JC has given me the opportunity to enjoy learning again.”
Senior Gabby Knudsen will study animal and environmental sciences – and play volleyball – at the JC next year, and plans to transfer to one of the TAG schools. Senior Sebastian Lopez will study sociology, and hopes to transfer to USC after two years. He will also take part in the TAG program to keep his options open, with an eye towards UC Santa Barbara. Sebastian’s fellow Student of the Year, (see adjacent article) Senior Creighton Rochlin, is also attending the JC and will study Political Science and History.
Many JC-bound seniors interviewed for this article talked about the small class sizes as a plus, and being able to explore new areas with less at stake financially. Some felt that the transition to the large lecture halls typical of UCs and other four-year colleges would be overwhelming, and that the JC would allow a gradual adjustment.
With more college graduates than ever staggering under unprecedented levels of student debt in the U.S., perhaps it’s time to reassess the common notion that going to a four-year college is the ultimate goal for every high school graduate, and that opting for a junior college or community college is somehow less desirable and less prestigious. But with essentially free tuition, less financial risk as you find your way, smaller classes and more personal attention, a gradual transition to college life, and great options and advantages if you choose to transfer after two years, it’s clear that the JC is an option worth considering.