10 Ways to Learn at Your Local Community College

10 Ways to Learn at Your Local Community College
We explore the various ways students can take full advantage of learning opportunities at community colleges today, from high school programs to worker retraining and transfer agreements.
Institutions of higher education are just that – places where students can continue to learn, grow and develop professionally and personally. Community colleges are particularly adept at this task, offering a wide range of learning opportunities for students of all ages and walks of life. From young students still years from their college years to senior citizens who never want to stop discovering new things, these campuses offer a wealth of learning opportunities. Check out these 10 ways you can make the most of the programs found at your local community college.

Get Ahead in High School
 
Running Start is a program available through many of the community colleges in the state of Washington. According to the Tacoma Community College website, this program allows high school juniors and seniors to get a head start on college credits by taking college-level courses while they are still in high school. The program offers a wide range of benefits, including the ability to save on college tuition and choose from a broader course selection. Other states offer similar programs to aspiring college students.
 
It is important to note that these dual-credit programs are not without their share of requirements as well. Students are typically expected to maintain a high GPA in their high school courses to even qualify for the program. In addition, they will be required to achieve a prescribed GPA in their college coursework as well. College classes may also be offered on weekends and during school holidays, leaving dual-enrollment students little free time.
 
Finish High School
 
For those who were unable to make it to high school graduation the first time around, many community colleges also offer GED programs. Programs include both the coursework and the testing opportunity. Tests are typically schedules according to subject, with mathematics, writing, reading, social studies and science offered at different sessions.
 
The Community College of Philadelphia offers the opportunity for students to take GED classes and the examination right on the college campus. To be eligible for the examination, students must be at least 18 years of age, although exceptions are made for some 16 and 17-year-olds in some circumstances. Students must also be a resident of Pennsylvania and may not be enrolled in high school currently or hold a high school diploma.
 
Earn a Certificate
 
For those anxious to get into the workforce, community colleges offer a wide range of certification programs that can often be completed in one year or less. These programs often coincide with the employment needs of the area, allowing students to complete their training and find a good job right out of community college. While this may be an optimal path for students who have a pretty good idea of the kind of work they want to do after college, a certificate can be the best option. However, few general classes are included in certificate programs, so students that want to explore their options may want to pursue a two-year degree that gives them the opportunity to explore various fields of study.
 
Arapahoe Community College in Colorado offers a wide range of options in certificates, including retail management, web design, computer information systems and automotive service management. Certificate programs may require anywhere from six to 30 credit hours to complete. Coursework is geared specifically toward the industry. Some programs may require additional licensing examinations or requirements like a background check or first aid training.
 
Earn a Degree
 
Of course, the most obvious reason to attend community college is to earn a two-year associate degree in the area of study you choose. However, many aspiring college students do not realize just how many areas of study community colleges offer today. From a broad liberal arts degree to a specialized degree program in one of the popular STEM subjects, you can find a wide assortment of options through your local community college today.
 
Some community colleges are even beginning to offer baccalaureate degree options right on the community college campus. According to the NY Times, Florida currently has 14 community colleges that are authorized to offer four-year degree programs. In addition, community colleges in another 16 states have offered four-year degrees, with some schools converting completely to four-year institutions. While this option may be a good, low-cost choice for adult students uncomfortable with the traditional college campus, degree programs may be more limited and geared more toward a specific career field than typical four-year institution offerings.
 
Prepare for University Education
 
Wicked Local explains that students wanting to complete a four-year degree, a community college can be a good starting point. For example, Middlesex Community College in Massachusetts offers the MassTransfer program, which incorporates transfer agreements with a number of four-year schools in the area. Students can begin their education at Middlesex, knowing that the credits earned there will be accepted at the four-year schools on the transfer agreement list.
 
Students interested in transfer programs need to check with the local community college prior to enrollment to ensure such a transfer policy exists. It is also a good idea to check with the four-year institution prior to beginning any college coursework, so that classes chosen at the community college level will directly apply to the four-year degree. These transfer agreements are becoming more common and often involve multiple schools throughout the state to provide students with plenty of good academic choices close to home.
 
Go to School Online
 
Online options are particularly convenient for busy adults trying to balance family, jobs and an education. Some schools offer degree programs that are fully online, which allows you to complete your education without ever leaving home. Keep in mind certification and licensing examinations may need to be taken at an assigned location, in order to enter the workforce in your chosen field.
 
Online classes can be a convenient option for many students – as long as they are prepared for the technical requirements of the class. Most online courses will have specific requirements in terms of computer and network capabilities. You may be required to update your system or add accessories like a microphone to take full part in the online option. Check requirements for online classes before you enroll to ensure you are ready to roll on the first day of classes.
 
Some students also find that the online environment makes it more challenging to commit to assignments and stick with the coursework. You must determine whether you are the type of student who can work well independently before you attempt the online option. If you are a person that craves social interaction and requires the presence of an instructor to remain on task, you may find the classroom environment, or even a hybrid option, is better suited to your temperament.
 
Explore Hybrid Options
 
Another option for busy college students is a hybrid program that combines online coursework with classroom instruction. According to the website for Northwestern Michigan College, this arrangement offers students the flexibility of online learning with the benefit of personal interaction in the classroom. This can be a particularly helpful option for training that requires hands-on experience, such as teaching or health care degree programs. Many hybrid programs offer at least half of the coursework online.
 
While hybrid classes can be a nice alternative to course completely on campus or online, the same technical requirements will exist for the online portion of the class. In addition, students may need to spend some time figuring out the online system, including how to find and access the class. Students may also be required to attend an online orientation that goes over the finer points of the virtual classroom.
 
Get Job Training
 
Community colleges tend to partner with local businesses to provide the training those companies need to produce skilled workers. This job training may be a part of a complete degree program, or it may be one or two training courses specifically designed for an employer in the area. This is an excellent way to hone professional skills without investing time and money into a full degree program.
 
With the need to get more displaced workers into in-demand jobs today, many community colleges are now offering accelerated job training options that can be completed in a fraction of the time. For example, St. Louis Community College offers a wide range of accelerated job training programs to equip students for industries like energy technology, laboratory science, audio visual production and business technology. The program offerings at this school may fluctuate, based on the current needs of the local workforce.
 
Study Abroad
Many community colleges today offer students the ability to study abroad for a semester or two. The website for Bergen Community College in New Jersey lists a number of benefits of study abroad programs, including the ability to gain a global perspective within your field of study and the opportunity to experience other cultures firsthand to gain a better understanding of them. Study abroad programs can venture to nearly any location around the globe, helping students understand their own place in the developing global market.
 
The options in study abroad programs through local community colleges may be diverse, ranging from trips to Western European countries to the far reaches of Asia. Some of the programs that have been offered by community colleges in the past include treks to Vietnam, Beijing, Costa Rica and Australia. Programs may be tied to studies in history or geography, or they may be used to enrich world language studies. Programs may also vary in terms of the length of the trip, ranging from a single week to an entire semester.
 
Like other special programs offered through community colleges, many study abroad programs may have specific requirements students must meet before they can be eligible for the program. For example, the study abroad program at Bergen Community College requires students to have one semester of classes at the college under their belts, and a minimum GPA of 2.5. Some study abroad programs may require an even higher GPA. In addition, students may need to have current full-time status and be in good standing with the school.
 
Learn Something New
 
Adults interested in picking up a new hobby or expanding their knowledge in a specific area of interest may find exactly what they are looking for at the local community college. Whether you want to explore science, music or art appreciation, the closest campus may have what you are looking for. You can also indulge your passion for cooking, photography or gardening with courses taught by professors who are accustomed to teaching adults in an academic format.
 
These courses typically do not offer college credit, so there are no grades or tests to worry about. In addition, non-credit courses can usually be taken whether or not the student has any previous college coursework on his transcript. The classes typically do not assign work outside the classroom, nor do instructors have attendance or participation requirements. Students interested in these types of classes usually need to contact the department of continuing education, rather than the admissions office, to find out how to register.
 
Another option in non-credit courses may be in the area of professional development. Community colleges often partner with local businesses to provide targeted, ongoing training to their employees. Classes may range from instruction geared specifically to management to introductory classes offered to new-hires of the company. The good news is that companies usually pick up the tab for these classes, so you can enrich your professional portfolio without emptying your own pocket to do so.
 
Community colleges are worlds where all types of learning are encouraged, whether through a structured degree program or another setup altogether. No matter how old or young you are, or where you are at in your life professionally or personally, your local community college offers the chance to broaden your world through knowledge. Check out the course options at your local community college and discover a whole new world of learning waiting for you!

Additional Resources [+]
Promoting Success and Completion: New Report Helps Lead the Way
Promoting Success and Completion: New Report Helps Lead the Way
10 Online Resources to Help Community College Students Succeed
10 Online Resources to Help Community College Students Succeed
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