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7 Myths About Community College, as Observed by a DCCCD Alumna

This post was written by Karis Strannemar, a Richland College graduate. Karis took classes at Richland College in 1983-1984 and continuing education classes at Eastfield in 1998. She returned to graduate from Richland in 2014 and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Texas in 2015. Karis also has three children, ages 11, 22 and 30. The above photo of Richland’s campus was taken by Paul Knudsen.

I am the nontraditional “out of the ballpark” student. I went to Richland from 1983-1984 after a year at UNT (it was NTSU then). After three children, three horses and a failed marriage in the sticks, I returned to college as a single mom with children in tow.

DCCCD graduate Karis Strannemar started at Richland in 1983, eventually returning to complete her associate degree in 2014.
DCCCD graduate Karis Strannemar started at Richland in 1983, eventually returning to complete her associate degree in 2014.

I went to Collin College for a couple of years, but couldn’t get past the math classes. There is a rule that you can only take a class so many times. I was misadvised, withdrew, took the wrong class and flat-out couldn’t make it to their lab at night while the kids were home alone. I abandoned my degree plan.

I even tried taking an online class with DCCCD, but again, circumstances seemed to make things difficult. The bookstore took three weeks with my textbook and my mom passed away after a difficult illness. I floundered. My son had graduated from Allen High School at the “super pit” on UNT’s campus. I vowed I would be the one on the floor the next time. I wanted to get a bachelor’s degree.

I looked at Richland for hope. It was in the form of a statistics class called Statway on campus that was being taught differently. There was one woman who took all my information, looked at my transcripts and reassured me I could graduate a Thunderduck. It would take two semesters of going to class. Richland was just 15 minutes from my dad, who had had hip replacement surgery (and a heart attack the fifth week of the semester).

I started in the fall while my dad recuperated, and then in the spring added four online classes from UNT. I did graduate a Thunderduck and then almost a year later walked across the stage at UNT in May 2015. I will be forever grateful for Saeid Darabadey and Eleanor Browne because it was their patience that got me through math.

So I have several myths based on the fact I have had 175 total credits, most of which were spent at either at Collin or Richland. I did take some continuing education classes at Eastfield, which landed me a job as a food stamp caseworker with the Department of Human Services in 1998.

Community College Myth #1: Bigger = Better (Or: “You Get What You Pay For”)

Surprisingly, after my 30-year absence, two of my professors were still teaching at Richland. I think community college professors are committed to their college, to their jobs and their community. At my four-year university there were grad students, and teaching assistants often would assist in classes. The main professor would be doing research or speaking elsewhere. They are off in academia, whereas the professor at DCCCD is hanging in there making sure that students get the material that is needed.

Community College Myth #2: They’re Full of Teenage Students Living at Home

No. Community colleges are full of a diverse population. There are newbie freshman who are dealing in smart money and saving on the tuition cost of going to a four-year university. There are people who are dipping their toes in education and trying to figure out what they want to be. Nontraditional students aren’t always single moms, but can be single dads, returning veterans and people retooling their lives with education due to changes beyond their control. No one is there for frat parties, because well, there isn’t a row of fraternity houses. They are there to go to school.

Community College Myth #3: My Classes Won’t Transfer

It’s true that there are some classes that won’t transfer. There are classes that don’t transfer between four-year schools. There are ways to check these things out and for the most part advisors can figure those things out. If you go to the school and blindly pick all the basket weaving classes, they probably won’t be portable – but if you stick to the common core classes, things will go well. If you talk to an academic advisor it will probably be golden.

Community College Myth #4: Large University = Bigger, Better Experience

Quantity does not equate with quality. At a bigger campus, you can be one in a cast of thousands of students within a program competing for one opportunity. At a two-year school you have more of a chance to make your mark. A friend of mine as a freshman was able to do a guest blog for the Richland student newspaper and do some student radio. It would be harder to get that sort of experience competing with upperclassman at a four-year school. That means less chances at auditions, less chances at scholarships and less chances to make any headway at figuring out who you are going to be in life.

Community College Myth #5: The Coursework Doesn’t Look as Good on a Resume

It is harder to get a job in a small college town in your area of specialty. A student is competing with a huge employable population for a small amount of jobs. If you stay within your own larger community, at least there is more of a diversity of jobs available. Moreover, there are more volunteer jobs which could pad a resume and make the difference between being hired and being the person who gets the “thank you, but no” letter. You can shine within your own community and possibly land a good job without going to the four-year university (and incurring the extra debt).

Community College Myth #6: The Events Aren’t as Good/Fun

There have been some awesome campus events that I have attended with my kids for little or no money. There have been concerts, lectures and recitals that have made a difference in our life. It has provided a slice of culture. The litany of community events is continuous, yet it doesn’t come with that big price tag seen at the larger campus.

Community College Myth #7: The Campus is Overcrowded… Look at the Parking Lot!

Don’t get me started about parking at Richland, Eastfield or Collin versus trying to park at some Dallas universities. Community colleges are more accessible, easier to traverse and generally better planned, because they are planned for growth in the community. The campuses are generally newer, too.

What are some other myths you’ve heard about community college? How did those myths differ from your experience? Let us know in the comments below.

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  1. Thank you for posting this, Monica! Wow! What a heart-warming story! Bravo! A colleague of mine mentioned this blog and I am glad I read it. What a determination! What a struggle! And what a success! You should be proud. We are proud of you! Reading through the post, the names Saeid Darabadey and Eleanor Browne mentioned therein looked familiar as they are in our databases as instructors for the Statway courses developed by Carnegie Foundation and offered at Richland along with many Community Colleges across the country. I am sure they too are very proud of you, Karis.
    Wishing you the best,

    Suleyman Yesilyurt
    Database Developer
    Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
    Stanford, California

    • Monica Monica

      So it seems! I had not yet made the connection that the Statway course Karis mentioned were connected to the Carnegie Foundation, but yes, they appear to be one in the same!

  2. I loved reading this article. I attended Richland around the same time. I got what I call my “10-year 2-year”. My kids were little and I had to work a full time job while going through the Engineering Technology degree program. Today I am President/Owner of my own technical training company which I’ve had for the last 17 years. I have clients that are large well-known corporations. Nobody has questioned my degree. Yes, the instructors were very dedicated to their classes and I got a lot of practical knowledge from them.

    • Monica Monica

      That’s really cool to hear! We might have to give you a call and chat about your experience sometime!

  3. Vicki Hall Vicki Hall

    I started at Richland in 1986 and left in 1988 because I could not work full time (retail job) and go to school full time. I returned in 2014, took the TSA for math as instructed by an advisor at Richland. I did not do well on the test….30+ years since algebra….and was advised to enroll in DMAT 066 and was told I would need to complete 4 DMAT classes before I could take Math 1314, next semester was advised to take DMAT 090. That summer 066 and 090 was phased out but still advised that I had 0305 (fall 2015) and 0310 (spring 2016) to complete. This last school year I have never been so frustrated with math. I was stressed, having panic attacks, and depression…literally crying over math eveyday. I had to drop classes because I spent so much time on math i didn’t have time to study for my other classes. Never was Statway ever mentioned to me. Plus I spent hours at CSM. I have classmates, seasoned like me, who are equally frustrated. I’m not sure that I am going to return to Richland in the fall. I am happy that Karis had a more positive experience and outcome.

  4. Vicki Hall Vicki Hall

    I’ve had 4 semesters of developmental math, 066, 090, 305, and 310. I’m done…as in tired of taking and paying for courses. This experience has been a complete waste of time, money, and effort. Getting an associates degree is out of my reach because taking all of these math courses and the Learning Framework class which I was exempted from but told by an advisor that I still had to take it because it was on the curriculum plan, has wasted my time and just prolonged the process.

    • Monica Monica

      🙁 I’m so sorry to hear that. Will you send me an email at with your student ID number and this info about your experience? Maybe we can have a different advisor take a look.

  5. Andrea Andrea

    I am a high school senior and this week I am trying to decide if I will apply to Richland or Collin, could you share with me your overall experience with both? What are the good and bad qualities that make them different?

    • Monica Monica

      Hi Andrea! I reached out to Karis to ask her thoughts and she commented below. 🙂

  6. Karis Strannemar Karis Strannemar

    There is no simple answer to that question. It depends on your focus and where you live. I am going to preface the fact I have two college age children- so as a Mom who went back to school there is input from that angle.
    Hands down Richland was my salvation. Advising was different at Richland. I understand Collin has made some changes in the last couple years- but I can remember standing in line at Collin for advising and having to leave after a couple of hours because I had to pick up my daughter. Richland had benches to sit on. The lady took me to a cubicle and looked at my paperwork. She took me to another office and that person confirmed all I needed to complete my Associate’s degree would be the two semesters of Statway for my math credits.
    It was just more personal. She handed me tissues as I teared up because it meant I could complete part of my dream of getting a degree.
    I found that Richland to be really culturally diverse, which made me feel more accepted. Richland was like an old familiar pair of shoes. Its footprint had changed in 30 years, but it felt like home. Parking wasn’t the greatest, but it’s like a real life job- get there early to get a parking space. The student activities were wonderful (I still have a sugar skull that one of the clubs sold at Halloween). Tuition was more at Richland because I didn’t live in Dallas County-but nothing like tuition at UNT. I felt like I could find help if I needed it at Richland. People were friendlier. The library was full of people studying at lunch. I had one professor online that I wished I could have had his lecture class. I had one online professor that I wish I had never taken the class. This is normal: welcome to college.
    Collin College was a fresh new shiny penny. The libraries were beautiful. There was great parking. I got scholarships that covered my”in county” tuition and books. Other students thought I was a professor or a reference librarian. I have no statistics, but I think the student population is younger at Collin. I had to take a government class and found one wonderful professor. I would take his class again- just to hear his ideas on the current election. There are gems like these everywhere. I actually found my adviser through the Higher Education Center at Collin for UNT (another great story for another day).
    Collin has three main campuses plus the Higher Education Center. Richland is just one campus of a giant community college system. Both have great options. That “Mom“ wants to interject that traffic can really be an important part of your choice. Do you want to drive to Plano, McKinney or Frisco at 5 pm when you live in Richardson? Transportation seems to be a really lame factor- unless the price of gasoline goes up. Richland is bigger to me than the other campuses. When you set up your classes be sure you can make it across campus in enough time. My son’s high school counselor let us take a day to visit campuses as an excused absence. We were able to see how busy it might be or how long it took to walk to class when the parking lot was full. We spoke to people about advising and what we needed to get him into school. Contact the any campus you want to apply for a tour and make an appointment with an adviser to see that is available.
    The important thing is if you are going into a specific area you need to tailor your choices. If you are pre law look carefully at what each school has to offer. Do you want to study body shop? If you want art classes- make a phone call and see if you can talk to the professors. Do you want to try for Saturday school or take classes “midmester “? Check out the current class schedules for options. Go have lunch and check out the people in the cafeteria of any of the schools. It’s not all about sandwiches and coffee- you can see if you feel comfortable there. If you have to spend time between classes you want to make sure you start out with good vibes.
    If it doesn’t work, don’t quit. Figure out a way to get through it. There are tutors on both campuses. They have writing workshops. Find a study group. In the end, I didn’t get a big paying job, but instead I got an educational experience that stands out on my resume where ever I go. I am proud of completing my degree at UNT, but Richland enabled me to do so.

  7. Thanks Karis for clearing some myths people have about community colleges! I completely agree with your points. Certainly, there is diversity in the population and all kinds of people from all walks of life that come to study at a community college. Also, Quantity=Quality is common misconception of community colleges but also for many other aspects of life. Students should do their own thorough research into potential colleges and universities rather than taking surface-level statements to be true!

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