Off to Oxford

Community College of Philadelphia graduate Hazim Hardeman will attend Oxford University next fall as a Rhodes Scholar. (Photo: Temple University)

Rhodes Scholarships are among the most celebrated and prestigious awards in the academic world, given to a select group of students usually from Ivy League and other well-regarded four-year colleges and universities.

This year, a community college graduate is among their ranks.

Next fall, Hazim Hardeman — who received his associate degree in communications in 2015 from the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) before transferring to Temple University to earn a baccalaureate in strategic communications and public advocacy this May — will enroll at Oxford University in England to pursue a master’s degree.

The scholarship, created in 1902, covers all expenses (valued at about $68,000 a year) for two or three years of study at Oxford. Scholars are chosen in a two-stage process. First, a college or university must endorse applicants, who must meet rigorous academic standards and display leadership, ambition and a community to make a difference for good, among other qualifications. Selection committees then taps top applicants for interviews. This year, 32 Americans were selected from 866 students endorsed by 299 different institutions.

It’s uncertain how many Rhodes Scholars have attended a community college. According to the Rhodes Trust, records indicate that only a few Rhodes Scholars over the years have listed community colleges on their scholarship applications. Secondary institutions are not required to disclose if an applicant has an associate degree.

Proof of the work

Hardeman’s high-profile honor highlights the academic standards offered at community college, according to CCP President Donald Generals.

“People are finally beginning to realize that we more than just the local adult ed college or a career and technical training college,” Generals said. “We are, in fact, the first two legitimate years of a college education.”

Hardeman’s story is extraordinary — he comes from a single parent home, had 2.3 GPA in high school and started at CCP in development  education — but it’s one that’s not uncommon at community colleges. In fact, public two-year colleges like CCP serve many such students and provide services that help them become successful.

Generals noted that another student from CCP — which serves about 34,000 students annually — recently attended Oxford on another scholarship. In 2015, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation named alumnus L. Larry Liu its first-ever Oxford Scholar, which it established in partnership with Lincoln College at Oxford. Liu, who earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology and economic policy from the University of Pennsylvania, received up to $85,000 to earn his graduate degree from Lincoln.

Such accomplishments highlight that community colleges are not only important for technical education, but also for academics geared toward a bachelor’s education and beyond.

“It speaks to the point that we are comprehensive,” Generals said. “We do both — and we both very well. We provide opportunities for many populations.”

Hazim emphasized that aspect, and how CCP allowed him to develop as a student and person.

“It’s not just a sort of a steppingstone. It’s a place where you can go and grow just like any other place,” Hardeman said. “The rigorous academic experience, the opportunity to be involved in student life, and professors who are willing to invest in students have really been the main things to shape my experience at the college.”

A future community college teacher?

Andrea DenHoed is another former community college student who received the scholarship in 2008. Her path was also atypical. DenHoed was home schooled, and while she was in high school her mother enrolled her in courses at Colorado’s Community College of Aurora, where she took four years of Spanish and math and science courses.

“It provided a large part of my high school education,” said DenHoed, noting she earned about 50 credits through the college. Those credits transferred to the University of Oklahoma, which helped her save money on tuition and fees, and allowed her to take university-level courses beyond the required general education requirements.

Attending CCA also brought DenHoed into a classroom for the first time, and it opened her eyes to the myriad people served by community colleges, from traditional-age students, to career switchers, to parents just taking a course or two.

“It was a nice thing at that age to see all those different paths in life,” she said.

DenHoed is now a copy editor for New Yorker magazine, but she may transition to a new career: teaching, perhaps at a community college.

“I think it’s partially because of the time I spent there,” she said. “And I think it’s partially the population of students and the diversity of paths at a community college.”

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily.