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IN 1974, I graduated from Skyline High School in Oakland, Calif., an underachieving student with lousy SAT scores. Allowed to send my results to three colleges, I chose M.I.T. and Villanova, knowing such fine schools would never accept a student like me but hoping they’d toss some car stickers my way for taking a shot. I couldn’t afford tuition for college anyway. I sent my final set of stats to Chabot, a community college in nearby Hayward, Calif., which, because it accepted everyone and was free, would be my alma mater.

For thousands of commuting students, Chabot was our Columbia, Annapolis, even our Sorbonne, offering courses in physics, stenography, auto mechanics, certified public accounting, foreign languages, journalism — name the art or science, the subject or trade, and it was probably in the catalog. The college had a nursing program that churned out graduates, sports teams that funneled athletes to big-time programs, and parking for a few thousand cars — all free but for the effort and the cost of used textbooks...

I Owe It All to Community College - NYTimes.com

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