Objective: In view of the values of individualism and competition embedded in neoliberalism and global capitalism, this paper seeks to illustrate empirically students' instrumentalism in higher education, and to explore how far such instrumentalism could be conceptualized as student alienation. Method: The illustration relies on experiences of community college students from an ethnographic study of students studying in a liberal-arts oriented community college in Hong Kong. The study begun in 2005 to 2006, continued in 2009, and followed up in 2010 to 2011. Eighty-five students in total were recruited and interviewed; 39 of them were interviewed twice. The interviews were analyzed together with the author's observations and participation as a lecturer of that community college. Results: Against an intensely competitive environment, community college students were rather instrumental in their studies. Their alienation was also manifested in the following aspects: being instrumental about their career planning, preferring surface and strategic learning to deep learning in their studies, and being strategic or even manipulative in dealing with their classmates or teachers. Conclusion: This study provides a nuanced analysis of different aspects of student alienation. Student alienation is worrying, not simply because students are not learning what is required for becoming the educated workforce or citizens, but arguably because throughout the course of their studies, students acquire qualities that may make competitive employees for the cruel business world but do not necessarily make caring or critical citizens. Copyright © 2022 SAGE Publications.