When community colleges first opened their doors, they widened the gateway to social mobility and were fondly celebrated as America’s “people’s colleges.”
Today, more and more scholars are enrolling at Community College of Philadelphia because they know they can travel to just about any destination from there – while spending less money along the way. Plus, rigorous academic preparation and skill development are now woven into its nationally known Liberal Arts – Honors Option curriculum, which was designed to serve students who plan to advance into professional life and attend competitive four-year schools.
In 2015, Michael Novak, a newly minted Honors graduate of the college, won the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Transfer Scholarship, one of the nation’s most generous scholarships. It’s now paying for his education at the University of Pennsylvania.
“The College Honors program taught me how to read difficult texts, how to write, how to conduct myself in seminar, and how to involve myself in an academic discussion in an intelligent, meaningful and helpful way,” says Novak. “They model the program on graduate school, and I think it’s got to be the best honors program in the country. It’s a hidden gem.”
Community College of Philadelphia College alumnus Larry Liu won the very same scholarship in 2012, and later graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and economic policy. Last year , he was named the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s first Oxford Scholar, an award that will provide up to $85,000 toward a master’s degree at Oxford University.
This year, another Honors graduate is preparing for a journey to the Ivy League. Muriyd Fuller, a 20-year-old from Mt. Airy, describes himself as a chronic underachiever. “I had favors done for me for being smart, but I was lazy,” he says.
With loving support from his mother, he found his way to Community College of Philadelphia, which has the Center for Male Engagement to support, coach and spark the ambitions of young men like him.
Fuller has since been accepted to the University of Pennsylvania, where he plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy. He has his sights set on becoming a professor… “Now, people don’t say I have potential,” says Fuller. “They say I am capable.”
Between 2005 and 2013, 264 of Community College of Philadelphia’s former students transferred to Ivy League universities including Brown, Cornell, Yale, and Harvard universities, according to the college’s Office of Institutional Research. Eighty-nine percent transferred to the University of Pennsylvania. Thousands of others transferred to other area universities during the same period, including Temple University, Drexel University and Penn State University.
Others have found their associate’s degree can provide a passport to once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Deesha Dyer, a 2012 graduate in Women Studies, went directly from Community College of Philadelphia to a job at the White House. Since then, she has been promoted and currently serves as the White House Social Secretary and assistant to President Obama.
Dyer, who typically shuns press interviews, recently came back to her alma mater to serve as the keynote speaker at the college’s 50th Commencement. In her remarks, she addressed the stigma facing community colleges and their students, and the fact that there are no limits — not for the students with the wisdom, smarts, and heart to graduate from Community College of Philadelphia.
“Stand proud in who you are as a community college graduate,” Dyer told the class of 2016. “Know that you will meet people who will still put limits on your greatness, or make you feel as if you have not earned your degree – as if your degree is worth less than others; but you have earned it. It is yours. It is something that no one can take away from you, so don’t let them.”
Associate Professor of Art History Brian Seymour says the journey can be transformative: “We don’t care where you have been,” he says. “We just want to know, where will you go?”