By Mallory Allen, Mara Allen & Lindsey Gloede
There has long been a stigma surrounding community colleges, with many people viewing them as second-rate institutions designed for inferior students.
“Community college stigma is a major issue. A lot of students believe they are too good for community college, or they could never attend there because their parents expect better or their peers will make fun of them. There are a number of high school graduates who are completely ignoring community colleges because they look down on them or think they will be belittled for attending,” said Bradley Griffith, who received his Ph.D. in Education from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 2021. Griffith wrote his dissertation on community college stigma and how it impacts high school seniors’ choice of college.
Myths and misperceptions about these schools continue to be abundant. A few of the most common are as follows:
Community college is a last resort for students who aren’t accepted by a four-year university.
Community college students aren’t as intelligent, talented, or successful as their peers.
The quality of education students receive at community college is worse than at a four-year school.
Going to a community college is something to be embarrassed about.
Unfortunately, these very stereotypes are often expressed about the University of Wisconsin (UW) System’s two-year campuses and the students who attend them.
In July 2018, each of the 13 schools which once comprised the UW Colleges officially joined with one of Wisconsin’s four-year universities and became known as “branch” campuses. UW-Green Bay inherited UW-Marinette, UW-Manitowoc, and UW-Sheboygan.
As former students at UWGB’s Marinette Campus, two of this article’s authors – Mara and Mallory Allen – experienced that community college stigma firsthand. Here’s their experience, in their own words:
“Our mother strongly advocated for us to begin our collegiate career at Marinette, as it was smaller, close to home, and far less expensive. At first, we both hated the idea. We thought we were ‘too good’ to attend the Marinette Campus because we believed all the aforementioned stereotypes about two-year schools like it – and so did our friends and classmates, who ‘expected more’ from us than going to a glorified community college. However, starting at the Marinette Campus was one of the best decisions the two of us could have ever made. We thrived both academically and socially in the tight-knit campus community Marinette offered, building strong personal connections with so many friends and professors. We served as Student Ambassadors, worked the school’s athletic events, and were provided with so many other unique experiences and opportunities to learn and grow. Before we knew it, our two years at the Marinette Campus were over, and we graduated summa cum laude with our Associate of Arts and Sciences (AAS) degrees in the spring of 2021. Now, we’re soon-to-be UWGB seniors, and although we love it at the main campus, Marinette will always hold a special place in our hearts.”
Below are three more success stories about students who’ve broken the stigma surrounding UWGB’s branch campuses and proven the aforementioned community college stereotypes to be untrue.
Jordon Lawrenz, UW-Green Bay Manitowoc Campus
Hometown: Manitowoc, WI
Year in School: Sophomore
Studying: Communication with emphases in Sports Communication and Journalism
Born and raised in Manitowoc – just 15 minutes from campus – Lawrenz said the decision to attend his home city’s school was a rather easy one to make.
“The Manitowoc Campus helped me get way ahead of schedule, in more ways than one. I was able to take a balance of in-person electives but also work on my Communication courses, which were offered online… and I am on pace to graduate in three years. On top of that, going to school at the Manitowoc Campus has saved me thousands of dollars. I was able to maintain my jobs while here, which is helping pay for tuition, taking a huge weight off of my shoulders for student loans after graduation, and furthering my sports broadcasting career.”
Because he’ll be spending only one year at the main UWGB campus, Lawrenz said he intends to make the most of it. “I definitely plan on joining a few clubs or intramurals next year… It will also be my first year living on campus, so that is very exciting.”
At the end of the semester, Lawrenz will graduate from the Manitowoc Campus with his AAS degree. He believes that “everyone should attend one of the branch campuses if they are local.”
Lawrenz said the decision was “basically a no-brainer for me, and there are so many positives that outweigh the minor negatives… I can’t stress enough how beneficial it is to have such a close proximity to campus and save all this money in the long run.”
Chloe Mongin, UW-Green Bay Marinette Campus
Hometown: Coleman, WI
Year in School: Junior
Studying: Psychology major with a minor in Women and
Gender studies and a certificate in LGBTQ studies
The three major factors that pushed Mongin to start at the Marinette Campus were a distance from home, family responsibilities, and saving money.
“My commute was only 25 minutes. It was important to me to not have to uproot my family and try to find housing in a big city near a big campus,” explained Mongin. “I felt much more comfortable living in Coleman with my son Lucas and making a commute than I did uprooting him and trying to acclimate to a big city. Not to mention the money I saved in living expenses and tuition as well.”
Mongin, who graduated summa cum laude with her AAS degree in just one year, said that the time she spent at the Marinette Campus was extremely beneficial for her. “Attending a smaller campus really helped me transition from high school to college. I felt much more comfortable in the smaller setting and frequently received one-on-one help from instructors. I made personal connections with staff that I truly believe you just can’t achieve in a large campus setting.”
Beginning her college career at UW-Green Bay’s Marinette Campus was the perfect option for Mongin, and as she pointed out, doing so can be advantageous for every student – no matter their age, current situation, or educational/career aspirations.
“I cannot recommend enough going to one of the branch campuses first before attending the main campus. Even if your plan isn’t to finish at UWGB, or you’re not sure what your plan is, the branch campuses are a great place to dip your toes in and find something you’re passionate about,” said Mongin. “In the end, if you decide college isn’t for you, or you change majors, etc., you still get an associate’s degree, and you can use it for Gen Eds in any field. Plus, the branch campuses won’t put you $20,000 in debt.”
Harrison Thiry, UW-Green Bay Sheboygan Campus
Hometown: Kiel, WI
Year in School: Junior
Because Thiry grew up conveniently close to the Sheboygan Campus – about 30 minutes away – he chose to continue living at home with his parents and earn his AAS degree there before transferring to the main campus after his first two years of college.
“I saved a lot of money by going to Sheboygan. It also encouraged a lot of independence and initiative compared to the Green Bay campus,” Thiry explained. “A freshman living on campus at a four-year school is surrounded by RAs, advisors, clubs, activities, and other opportunities that can be helpful but also reduce the need to figure things out for yourself. Students at Sheboygan were treated a bit more maturely, which certainly helped me to gain more confidence and problem-solving abilities.”
Thiry made the most of his experience at the Sheboygan Campus by getting involved in the school’s Student Government Association (SGA), serving as the Executive Director for the 2020-2021 academic year. He has continued to be involved with this organization at the main campus and was recently elected University SGA President for 2022-2023.
“In this role, I hope to represent students from all four UW-Green Bay locations and make sure student voices are heard by the university, UW system, and state legislature,” said Thiry, who plans to study industrial/organizational psychology in graduate school after leaving UWGB.
While he acknowledges the presumed “lack of security and guidance can be daunting” for students who attend two-year campuses, Thiry states, “If you are the kind of person who wants to be treated like an adult, can make friends anywhere, and has the dedication to make it work for yourself wherever you go, you can succeed at any location – and a UWGB branch campus may be the right choice for you.”