Can Community Colleges Reject You Based on Age?

Can Community Colleges Reject You Based on Age?
Community colleges usually admit every applicant – but some may just reject you if you are too young. Learn about the controversy that surrounds community colleges and younger students.

Many say that you are never too old to head back to school. But what about being too young? According to a recent report in USA Today, youngsters trying to accelerate their academic careers may find themselves against a roadblock when it is time to explore the world of higher education. At least, that is what a young Florida girl found out when she tried to enroll in a community college near her home.

The Case of Anastasia Megan

Anastasia Megan was 13-years-old when she applied to a local community college near her Florida home. The home-schooled student had completed all of the requirements necessary for high school graduation and was ready to advance in her academic career. She looked to Lake-Sumter Community College for the next step, but the college denied her application because administrators feared Megan was too young to sit with other college students in classes.

As a result of the college's decision, Megan and her family filed a formal complaint against Lake-Sumter, and the case is now being reviewed by the Office for Civil Rights. The premise of the complaint is that denial of college admittance based on age is a violation of the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, which "prohibits discrimination on the basis of age in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance." Under federal law, mediation must first be attempted before the Office of Civil Rights will get involved. The Department of Education verified that mediation was attempted between Megan's family and Lake-Sumter Community College, but failed.

Academics vs. Safety

The Orlando Sentinel also reported on the case and interviewed Megan's parents about their decision to pursue a formal complaint against the college. Louise Racine, Megan's mother, told the Sentinel, "If she meets all of the qualifications but for her age, why not let her in? What's the worst that can happen, honestly? If a child does pass these tests, don't you think they should be allowed to continue their education to the next level and continue to let their minds grow?"

One of the concerns of the college is Megan's safety. College President Charles Mojock would not comment specifically on Megan's case, but he did tell the Orlando Sentinel, "Anyone basically can walk onto our campus. So we've got a very different environment [than a high school]… And we have many adult students having adult conversations on adult topics and that may or may not be suitable for some young students."

To address the safety concerns, Megan's father offered to accompany his daughter to her classes. He even stated that he would be willing to enroll in the classes with her. The college denied his request because they feared the presence of a parent in the classroom would be disruptive to the learning environment.

Other School Policies

Prior to Megan's application for admission, Lake-Sumter did not have a formal age policy for admission. However, the college had an informal minimum age requirement of 15, which went into writing after Megan's complaint. Other community colleges have similar open-ended age requirements, allowing college administrators to bend the rules for extraordinary circumstances. For example, the website for Kirkwood Community College cites a minimum age requirement of 17 for students. However, the website also states that students under the age of 17 may "enroll at the discretion of the Program Director."

Pima Community College allows student to dual-enroll in courses at the college while still in high school, as long as the student has consent from a parent or guardian, high school administrator and high school counselor. Students under 16 may also seek full-time enrollment into the college if they meet basic guidelines and seek special permission to enroll at Pima from the Vice President of Student Development.

Other Teen Students

Megan is not the only youngster who has expressed an interest in an early college graduation. According to the California State University website, Christina Brown became the youngest graduate of the college at the tender age of 15. She began her four-year program when she was just 10-years-old, and she finished her education with a bachelor's degree in psychology.

A report in the Arizona Republic last year stated that Miles Manning earned two associate degrees from South Mountain Community College prior to his 15th birthday. Manning told the publication, "I decided that I wanted to graduate early from community college when I was 10."

While these students might still be considered the exception to the rule, it does appear that the number of teenage college students is growing. According to the report from the Arizona Republic, 145,000 students between the ages of 14 and 17 were enrolled in community colleges in 2000. The National Center for Education Statistics predicts that number may climb to 190,000 by the year 2016. Indeed, the number of young community college students continues to be a growing force on campus.

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