Hazim Hardeman’s story is a testament to the “path of possibilities” provided by the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP). After completing an associate’s degree from CCP in 2015 and a bachelor’s degree from Temple University this year, he will become the only American Rhodes Scholar winner in 2018 to have attended a community college.
In what has become an unofficial pipeline to institutions like the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University or Cornell University, CCP has been working to redefine the role of community colleges in effectively preparing students academically, professionally and personally.
“It’s a myth or it’s a misunderstanding that the first two years of a liberal arts curriculum at a community college is something less than what students would get at any other college,” says Dr. Donald Guy Generals, president of CCP. “We provide a lot of support, we have counseling and we challenge them. We establish a high bar … and we foster their activities so that they’re able to meet that bar.”
The school’s status as a pathways institute – supported and funded by the Gates and Lumina Foundations – puts students on “guided pathways” providing them with streamlined curriculum and services depending on their chosen career path.
And in order to effectively support all students, Generals says that CCP made an investment in students by hiring ten full-time advisors whose only job is to help students stay on track with their career aspirations.
A comprehensive workforce and economic development division at CCP provides students with non-credit courses, short-term and intermediate certificates and focuses on what is known as “stackable credentials.” “If somebody takes a six-month certificate, they can then parlay that, or at least part of that, into a credit and then pursue a more traditional academic program,” says Generals.
Working with the city’s school district and workforce development initiative, CCP staff also offers duel enrollment to high school students and customized job training that connect current students with business industries in the Philadelphia area.
“I knew I wanted to go there because they had dual admissions in place,” says Hardeman, a Philadelphia native, adding that “I knew that was the mechanism that would allow me to transfer to Temple University.”
After graduating with his associate’s degree in communications in 2015, Hardeman said he was able to “hit the ground running” when he got to Temple.
“It was really a sort of training ground for me to develop some habits that would allow me to be a successful student anywhere I went and where I’m eventually going,” he says. “Those habits are the simple things like reaching out to your professors, going to their office hours, making sure that they know what you’re interested in, who you are, what you’re thinking [and] where you envision yourself going.”
As a result of the academic skills and habits formed, he graduated magna cum laude from Temple in 2017. Now, he will become the second CCP student to enroll at Oxford University following L. Larry Liu, a former honors student who received the 2012 Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. The award is “the equivalent of a Rhodes Scholar for community college students,” Generals said.
Particularly, CCP’s “Liberal Arts – Honors Option” curriculum has been taken by many of the students who go on to top four-year institutions or the workforce. Students must apply for the program, and they conduct research, do deep readings and participate in seminar-style classes.
“I always herald the [honors] program as the most rigorous and challenging academic experience that I’ve ever had,” says Hardeman. “It was an experience like no other.”
Brian Seymour, coordinator of the honors program, says that the interdisciplinary program is designed to establish a strong sense of community, which ultimately helps student development and retention.
“In our assessment, students need to transform if they are going to compete,” says Seymour. “The processes are designed to force students to be reflective about their methods and to learn to seek out help from faculty and one another.”
The program hosts a core group of honors faculty with some in rotation and “on loan” from other humanities-related disciplines such as philosophy, English, sociology, art history, history or Earth science.
“Our interdisciplinary approach is based on the idea that big questions demand wide-ranging scrutiny, but more importantly, our meta-theoretical approach is focused on preparing students to compete when they transfer,” says Seymour. “Day in, day out, they are learning to recognize how knowledge is made and how academics work. In this sense, they learn how to deal with disciplines rather than delving too deeply in any one discipline in this first-year college experience.”
Because of its rigorous and streamlined curriculum, work and skill development programs and engaged faculty, CCP students are able to transfer to competitive and selective schools. Seymour recalls one student who entered CCP who was unsure of herself, but by midterms, she had shown great improvement, he says.
The student emerged as a leader in the classroom, eventually transferred to Bryn Mawr College and was granted the one-year, $25,000 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to study and travel independently. Liu, the Jack Kent Cooke Scholar, received the foundation’s inaugural Oxford Scholar award of $85,000 to complete his master’s at Oxford and is now a doctoral student at Princeton University.
Between spring 2006 and spring 2016, CCP sent 564 of its students to Ivy League schools according to the school. Out of those students, 498 attended the University of Pennsylvania.
Wanda Klinefelter entered CCP in 2012 and attended most of her classes at the Northeast Regional Center location. After graduating in 2015, she transferred to the University of Pennsylvania where she is currently an English major.
As a student at CCP, she focused her studies on creative writing and English with a focus on the Victorian era. Klinefelter was also on the student council and completed a work-study in the financial aid department.
“My ties are really connected to the Northeast Regional [Center], but the classes I took at the main campus, the people and the staff there and the professors were amazing too,” she says.
The easy accessibility, tuition price, professors and environment at CCP made a difference for Klinefelter. Mostly, she says the staff was “tremendous in helping shape my direction.”
Klinefelter says that without CCP, she wouldn’t have gotten into Penn and “God knows” what direction she would have gone in. “Just the staff and the professors, they really help you. I don’t think CCP gets the credit that it deserves.”
Following her graduation from Penn, Klinefelter plans to enter into the university’s doctoral program in English, focusing on British and Gothic literature with intersections in gender studies.
Likewise, Hardeman plans to return to the U.S. following his time at Oxford to enter a doctoral program for political science, sociology, education or communications, he said.
Both students attribute their path to success to the institution where they started their academic journeys.
“The experience of really getting into the habit of reading and thinking seriously, that all for me happened at the Community College of Philadelphia,” says Hardeman. “If you’re unsure, if you’re uncertain, if it’s for financial reasons, but even besides that … if you feel like you just need some more time to grow not only in terms of a scholarly sense or a social sense, but also in a personal sense and a character sense, I think community college is a great way to do that and prepare yourself to be a successful student.”
Tiffany Pennamon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanypennamon.