PCC-USC Partnership Reinvents the American Dream for the 21st Century

Our speaker at Pasadena City College’s 2012 Commencement was none other than Dean Karen Symms Gallagher herself. In addressing our nearly 2,000 community college graduates, Dean Gallagher stood as both a role model and as a symbol of an energetic and expanding public-private partnership that is paving a new path to the American Dream for the 21st century.

Over the past decade, Pasadena City College (PCC) has transferred over 1,000 students to USC. This represents a significant shift in the transfer patterns of our students. PCC is in the top 10 community colleges in California and in the top 100 in the United States for degrees awarded and transfers.

Traditionally, most of our students have transferred to the California State University and the University of California. Today, a growing number of our students are transferring to the top private universities, with USC their number one destination.

It may at first seem incongruent that a large public community college of 37,000 students like PCC teams up with USC, one of the elite global private research universities in the world. Admission to USC is extremely competitive and the empowerment that comes with a USC education and degree is a privilege granted to a relative few. For its part, PCC, founded 90 years ago, was an early innovator of a uniquely American idea: the public open-admissions community college where every person regardless of means has the opportunity for a quality higher education. So what’s the connection between these colleges?

It is our fervent commitment to working together to reimagine the American Dream for any and all students, regardless of their personal circumstance. The 21st-century version of the American Dream is less about achieving a material success won by a self-made person than it is the fulfilling of one’s human potential for making a meaningful contribution to a global society. USC and PCC are working together closely toward this common goal – to create universal access to the very best college education in the world.

For Jackie Robinson, PCC Class of 1938, community college was the start on the journey to changing the very course of American history. Today, a high school graduate from John Muir High School in Northwest Pasadena, as Robinson was, can realize the dream of going through PCC and on to graduate from USC. The USC-PCC partnership extends well beyond student transfers. Many PCC administrators and faculty are USC alums and, more recently, Rossier graduates have had internships and taken positions with the college. The boundaries that once existed between public and private, community college and research university, have been replaced by a truly global understanding of the importance of institutional synergy.

A number of professional media opinionators have questioned whether the American Dream is still possible for most Americans. It is true that the Great Recession has prompted reasonable doubts in some quarters about the equity of opportunity. But one need only look to the partnership model of the University of Southern California and Pasadena City College, two urban and global institutions of higher education, to understand that the American Dream is alive and well and rooted in the vision statement of the Rossier School of Education: Envision a world where all students, regardless of personal circumstance, can learn and succeed.


By Mark Rocha PhD ’88