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INK_BLAST | NOT LENDING TO COMMUNITY COLLEGE STUDENTS IS UNJUST AND PREJUDICED

By Juleyka Lantigua

Picture_11 Shame on some of the nation’s largest banks. They have stopped issuing student loans to community college students, a decision that will have dire effects on poor, minority and immigrant students. JPMorgan Chase, Citibank, SunTrust, HSBC and Citizens Bank all have indicated they are cutting the purse strings to community colleges. This is an injustice based on a stereotype—that students enrolled at two-year colleges are somehow below average, less worthy of financing, and riskier borrowers.

Those assumptions could not be further from the truth. I have had the privilege of working as an adjunct at one of the finest junior colleges in the City University of New York system—LaGuardia Community College in Queens. I have seen how exceptional these students can be. These are young men and women who work full time and carry a full academic load. Many are parents or spouses or the primary earner in an extended family. They are former professionals in their home countries ready to start over and follow the American system so they can continue to work as nurses, electricians, computer engineers, accountants and teachers. They make untold sacrifices just to walk into class every night or on weekends. These are not at-risk students, but students whose perseverance and discipline allow them to balance an array of responsibilities that would challenge the most accomplished Ivy Leaguer.

Colleges like LaGuardia are first chances for many minority and immigrant students—and second chances for some U.S.-born Americans who struggled in high school or earned a GED or took time off to raise children or care for ailing parents or came back as veterans after serving their country.

These colleges offer redemption, support and encouragement; here it does not matter what you did or did not do before, but what you intend to do next. Everyone has had to carve out space, time and money from their demanding lives to be here. They all want to be here and expect to work hard. And they excel, often surpassing established standards. LaGuardia’s 2007 nursing graduates received a 97.47 percent pass rate on the national nursing exam, the first step in becoming a registered nurse. Compare that to New York State’s average of 75.61 and you get a clear picture of the work these students put in.

Schools like LaGuardia are also quietly forging the truly multi-ethnic world we’re all tiptoeing towards. Over 160 countries are represented in its student body. In my classroom I had students from Colombia, the South Bronx, Bangladesh, Korea, New Jersey, Dominican Republic, the Middle East, Africa and Ecuador. But these students do not fear each other. They have one unifying thing in common: They all clawed their way to school, fighting against unsympathetic bosses, grueling double shifts and dwindling funds. They know that in their backpacks and shoulder bags they carry the destiny of entire families and communities.

Banks should not be allowed to crush their dreams and stand in destiny’s way. Compared to the astronomical costs of traditional colleges –from $15,000 to $45,000 per year—the average community college loan of $3,200 seems miniscule. But for someone earning minimum wage or less, it’s an insurmountable amount. It’s the difference between staying at a dead-end job and becoming a full professional.

About 6.2 million students attend community colleges, adding up to 40 percent of all undergraduates, according to the College Board. As a nation, we cannot afford to undervalue their potential. If the banks won’t provide the loans, Congress must step up and make sure the government does so.

"Juleyka Lantigua is a journalist and editor whose work appears in national newspapers and magazines. For more info visit www.juleykalantigua.com ."

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