The Blog of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

June 20, 2012

What Community Colleges Teach Us

By: 
Matt Meyer

I love community colleges.

When I tell people I work at a community college, most seem surprised or perplexed. “Wow, that must be hard,” they exclaim. The unfortunate truth is community colleges are often underserved and unappreciated. And this is tragic.

After 5 years of working at a 4-year residential campus I moved with my wife to Ventura, California, just a year ago to plant InterVarsity at Ventura College. We came because we saw God was powerfully at work in a city and county with no on-campus ministry happening, and there was a need for someone to bring more resources to the campus.

It didn’t take me long to fall deeply in love with community college ministry and to begin to see what the community college campus and its students can teach me and others. I want to offer my thoughts on the beauty of community college ministry and what community colleges can offer all of us.

1. How to love our cities

It seems simple, but this has been incredibly profound to me. Our students are all local. They love this place and want to invest in it. Likewise, members of the community love and want to invest in the college. This is a huge contrast to the transitory environment of many 4-year schools. God always sends people to a place for good reasons. Our students know what it means to be called to a place and can teach the rest of us how to invest in our local communities.

2. How to tenaciously pursue community

Community is a felt need of our students and it just doesn’t come easy on commuter campuses. Our students have gone out of their way to make sacrifices to pursue real community in a way that I’ve never seen at a residential campus. In a culture where real Christ-centered community is rare and costly, community college students can serve as a model for those of us in the church who know we’re called to be in community but aren’t quite sure how to go about it.

3. How to love those on the margins 

There are more students with disabilities, that come from tough economic situations, or who are just plain awkward and rough around the edges at a community college than at 4-year campuses. Being at a community college has pressed me to realize that I have a lot of room to grow in my capacity to love, and it has helped me learn to be a much better lover of people who can be difficult to love.

4. How to change a campus culture 

Campus life at community colleges is often lacking. Within a couple months, we became the most active and the largest student organization on campus. Where chapters at 4-year schools can often fly under the radar, chapters at community colleges can often be at the center of campus life. If InterVarsity is serious about renewing the campus, community colleges can teach us what that looks like.

So yeah, my job can be hard, but I’ve been blown away at what an amazing, vibrant, fun, and life-giving context the community college can be to do ministry. Ask to come to campus sometime and meet some of our students. Be ready to learn.

Matt Meyer and his wife Bekah are planting an InterVarsity chapter at Ventura College in California. Matt blogs on life and ministry at kingdomintersect.wordpress.com

Comments

Thanks for your heart for community college students. As a lifelong IVer(my wife and i met in IV at UNC 35 years ago) and president of one of the largest community colleges (Valencia College) I am very interested. This work is of great strategic importance. The traditional IV model works best in a traditional college environment where students fit the traditional model: go to college immediately after high school, attend out of town, live on or near campus, attend full-time, work half-time or less. This profile represents 17% of the US undergraduate population. More than half of all college students begin at a community college and at some state universities (like our partner the University of Central Florida, the largest undergraduate university in the US) transfers from community colleges represent more than half the graduates. A vital community college ministry has other important possibilities: because most students work full-time, it touches an immediate opportunity for marketplace ministry; it engages the large number who will transfer to a university; it touches the highest concentration of students of color (in Florida, 80% of all students of color enrolled in any higher educational at a community college; and because students are from the local community, it creates interesting opportunities to partner with local churches. Keep up the good work. God has a heart for community college students!! Sandy Shugart
Wow, Sandy! Thanks for your comment, and thank you for your investment in community colleges. Great stuff.
This awesome! I became a Christian through an Intervarsity chapter at East Los Angeles Community College. I can say first hand that it is tough but worth it. The Lord is moving in mighty ways!
Wow! Thanks for your soft and teachable heart matt! I couldn't have put this any better.

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