The letter came from a 19-year-old student named Margaret.
“Dear Sean,” she began, “I want to attend [Blank] University, but I am forced to attend [Blank] Community College where I am receiving very little advice on how to actually BE a professional writer… All my podunk professors seem to do is grade papers and get excited over college football. Should I change schools?”
I’m going to stop you right there, Margaret.
First off, I seriously doubt that the only thing your professors get excited about is college football. There is also college baseball.
Secondly, you probably don’t mean to belittle your teachers by calling them “podunk,” but it isn’t fair to discredit your community-college professors simply because they don’t teach at a prestigious State U.
There is only one difference between community-college professors and big-boy-university professors, and it can be summed up in one simple word: Medical benefits, baby.
As we can see, math is not my strong suit. But then, there is a valid reason for this. I went to community college. This means that during all my math-class exams, most of my adult classmates were busy changing their babies’ poopy diapers directly on their desks. So I was distracted.
Still, I am a proud juco grad. It took me 11 arduous years to get through county college, and I appreciated each golden hour spent at my alma mater.
During my time at school, my college went through a series of name changes. The institution began in 1963 as Okaloosa-Walton Junior College. Years later it changed to Okaloosa-Walton Community College. Then the school renamed itself Okaloosa-Walton College, before it finally morphed into Northwest Florida State College. Meaning, I currently hold degrees from four institutions.
The fact is, when I was your age, Margaret, I would have given my left kidney to attend a major university. I wanted this more than anything. But now that I’m older, I realize that state universities cannot compete with the tight-knit, small-town feel of a community college.
This is mainly because most of your community-college professors are adjunct professors. The word “adjunct” comes from the Latin words “ad,” meaning “to be,” and “junct” meaning “poverty-stricken.”
Adjunct professors in the U.S. are contractual workers who don’t earn much. They usually drive old model cars with high mileage, and bumpers held together exclusively with duct tape. These professors work marathon hours and take home meager pay.
Out of the 1.8 million college faculty in the U.S., a whopping 700,000 are adjunct professors. What this means is that many of these professors are forced to work other jobs to supplement their incomes.
You might think this makes them “podunk,” but trust me, this works out in your favor as a student inasmuch as your teachers are actually working non-academic jobs.
Your local college profs are doing blue-collar stuff. They’re not sitting on the golden toilets of elite academia, squatting out new books every six months. Your adjunct professors are working part-time at Home Depot, raising five kids.
I have had professors who made their primary livings as commercial plumbers, auto mechanics, landscapers, musicians, factory workers, CPAs, librarians, and Hooters waitresses.
One of my English teachers, for example, was a factory worker who assembled circuit boards. He taught English and journalism during his free time.
This was a guy who did not waste precious class time discussing various interpretations of reiterative dialogue within the unabridged works of Marcel Proust. My teacher taught us how to drink Pabst Blue Ribbon during class hours.
I am quite serious about this. This happened long ago, during a night class. One evening, there were about 20 of us studying Mark Twain, eating our brown-bag suppers during class. We were all adults, and we had just gotten off work.
One of the students announced that he had a few cold ones in his lunch cooler. He offered a beer to the teacher. The teacher cracked open the aluminum can, shotgunned it, then resumed our lesson on the finer points of the subjunctive mood.
So let me close by saying, I’m not the guy you should be asking for academic advice. I freely admit that I don’t have a pedigree. I am a working-class dropout who returned to school after I had a mortgage. My classes often convened in doublewide trailers, and my professors had calluses on their hands.
Such as the hardworking old women who taught Literature II once upon a time. The old woman was so committed to helping me learn to write that she often arrived to class one hour early to help me understand the inner-workings of my favorite crime novels.
I saw her in the supermarket recently. We hadn’t seen each other in years. She asked what I did for a living and I told her I was a writer.
It was an emotional moment between us. She threw her arms around me and we both cried a little. Then she took my face in her wizened hands, looked me in the eyes, and said in her most sincere voice, “But what is your day job?”
That’s the kind of service you get at community college.