Youth on Campus: How Young is Too Young for Community College?

Youth on Campus: How Young is Too Young for Community College?
Can pre-teens enroll in community college? A 12-year-old in Florida recently went to court when the local community college wouldn’t allow her to dual-enroll because she was too young. In California, a child prodigy is about to graduate from UCLA after starting at community college at the age of eight.

According to the American Association of Community Colleges, the average age for a student at a two-year institution is 29. But what about those who fall well outside of that average? While most would agree that you are never too old to learn something new, some youngsters trying to move up the academic ladder have faced major hurdles. Others have persevered, proving that higher learning is advantageous for students of all ages.

12-Year-Old Denied College Access in Florida

Issues regarding young students have plagued colleges for some time, but one recent report that made national headlines was that of Anastasia Megan of Center Hill, Florida. At the age of 12, Anastasia, or “Annie” as she is called by friends and family, was more than ready for the academic rigors of college. She had completed most of her secondary work through homeschooling and had aced three college placement tests when she applied for enrollment at Lake-Sumter Community College.

The college, however, didn’t see things quite that way. According to a report in the Orlando Sentinel, instead of the school readily admitting the young woman, they set up multiple roadblocks to keep her off the college campus. First, the college voiced concern about Megan’s social maturity and then worried about her physical safety on a campus filled with older students. Next, the school required one of Megan’s parents to attend class with her and then decided a parent wouldn’t be allowed into the classroom.

Complaint filed with the Department of Education

USA Today reports that Megan’s parents then filed a complaint, stating that the school’s refusal to admit their daughter was a violation of the Age Discrimination Act of 1975. That law “prohibits discrimination on the basis of age in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.” As a response to the complaint, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights in Atlanta launched an investigation into the matter.

In contrast to the federal law, the state of Florida allows colleges to set their own policies regarding age limitations, according to a second report in the Orlando Sentinel. The college’s president, Charles Mojock, was reported in USA Today as citing an informal age limit of 15 for admittance to the school. After the complaint by the Megans, a formal rule was drafted to that effect by the college’s Board of Trustees. The rule now states the college “accepts all students who have reached the age of 15 on or before the first day of classes each term.”

This video offers an overview of community colleges in Montana.

Rule Declared “Fair and Reasonable”

Mojock was unwilling to discuss the specific points of the Megan case, but he did state that he thought the new rule was “fair and reasonable” and included sufficient flexibility to make exceptions.

“You can be the best driver in the world at age 12, but you can’t get a driver’s license,” Mojock stated at USA Today. “You can also vote at 18, but does an 18-year-old always know what he or she is talking about? That’s not always the case. We’re trying to be accommodating and every occasion is a different endeavor. Still, we accept that age is a placeholder for certain readiness in a number of other areas of our society. I don’t see how this is out of the question. We’re not being arbitrary.”

This video offers an overview of Portland Community College.

Opposition to Rule Brings Change

Despite statements from Lake-Sumter Community College President Mojock, the Megan family did not agree with the school’s decision. The parents argued that their daughter had traveled around the world and was mature enough for the college environment. Annie had also done very well in online macroeconomics and U.S. government courses, although online education was not her ultimate goal.

“If she meets all the qualifications but for her age, then why not let her in?” Annie’s mother, Louis Racine, asked the Orlando Sentinel. “What’s the worst that can happen, honestly?”

The family did not stop fighting to get their daughter enrolled at the community college. With assistance and pressure from the Office of Civil Rights, Lake-Sumter Community College eventually changed its policy one year after it was established. The college now allows students to enroll at any age as long as they can meet academic requirements. However, the decision did not come soon enough for Annie. She and one of her siblings have since enrolled at Queens University in Ontario, Canada, where she plans to study business.

Child Prodigy Graduates Community College at the Age of 9

In another age-related community college report, a young boy who graduated from community college at nine is now slated to graduate from UCLA this year at 14. According to USA Today, Moshe Kai Cavalin enrolled at East Los Angeles Community College when he was just eight years old, earning two associate degrees with a perfect 4.0 grade point average by the time he was nine.

As Cavalin is now preparing to graduate from UCLA with a degree in mathematics, he has also published his first book – a how-to manual that instructs other youngsters to accomplish similar academic feats to his own. The book, “We Can Do,” has been released in Mandarin – the native language of Cavalin’s mother – and English.

As he was talking to USA Today, Cavalin said the label of “genius” that has been applied to him repeatedly is not something he particularly likes.

“That’s always the question that bothers me,” Cavalin told USA Today. “People need to know that you don’t really need to be a genius. You just have to work hard and you can accomplish anything.”

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