What is a Community College?
According to the Department of Homeland Security, community college is a “two-year school that provides affordable postsecondary education as a pathway to a four-year degree.” These schools also offer industry-specific training that helps graduates land jobs in the community directly after graduation. As the economy in the U.S. has changed in recent years, the quest for affordable, practical education has been on the rise. Community colleges tend to fit that bill to a “T” from trade-specific training to higher education that can stand alone or take the student directly into a four-year program.
- The ability to serve all sectors of society through an open-admission policy
- Equal and fair treatment to all students, regardless of age, ethnicity or background
- Opportunities for lifelong learning for all members of the community
- Provision of higher education to community residents through quality instruction
- A comprehensive program of education, including academics and extracurricular options
- Different Entrance Requirements – Community colleges generally have an “open door” policy that allows any student to enroll, regardless of previous transcripts. This makes community college the perfect choice for high school graduates with less-than-stellar grades. Remedial coursework is available to help students bone up on subjects before immersing themselves in the rigors of a college curriculum.
- Lower Cost – Community colleges tend to cost much less than four-year institutions, saving students plenty of money as they pursue a degree program. Based on our calculations, you can save $80,000 by attending a community college first, rather than enrolling directly in a private college.
- High Quality Teaching – Community college professors may be fresh out of school, but they have been deeply immersed in the world of academia prior to their teaching positions. Most will have a minimum of a master’s degree in their field of study, but some will even hold a doctorate. Some professors from four-year institutions will even moonlight at community colleges to earn extra money or create a more flexible schedule for themselves while working on other projects.
- Smaller Class Sizes – Because community colleges are often smaller than four-year schools, their class sizes also tend to be smaller. This is good news for students who enjoy personal interaction with their instructors or may need a bit more help in the academic realm. Even online classes provide time and access for students to interact with their instructors and other students.
- Wide Range of Degree Programs – Although community colleges typically offer fewer degree programs than their four-year counterparts, the range of degree options at community colleges has grown significantly over the years. In addition to vocational training in fields like advanced manufacturing and alternative energy, students can find degree programs in the performing arts, health care and computer science. STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) are also growing by leaps and bounds at many community colleges today.
- Partnership with Businesses – A relatively new trend with many community colleges is the ability to partner with local businesses. Community colleges offer training programs for those businesses, ensuring students who complete those programs have marketable skills at graduation. Some partnerships even include job placement after graduation.
This video looks at the benefits of attending community college.
What can I afford?
When finances are tight and you don’t want to graduate from college with a huge amount of student debt, community college can be a good option. Keep in mind that financial aid is available for community colleges as well. However, if you end up taking out loans to pay a portion of your education, the loan balances won’t be as large as they would with a four-year school.
How important is campus life?
One drawback at many community colleges is the lack of a campus community. Many students at community colleges are adults juggling jobs, family, and school, so they rarely spend time on campus after classes are over. If campus life is an important part of the college experience for you, look for a community college that offers campus housing or plenty of extracurricular activities. These features will give you a sense of the college community you are searching for.
Can I get a job with an associate degree?
According to the American Community Colleges website, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” Salary figures may not differ all that much between a two- and a four-year degree, either. In fact, the website cites statistics that show Ohio graduates from a four-year school earned an average salary of $32,207 a decade ago. Those who graduated with an associate degree that same year earned an average annual salary of $34,400.
Can I transfer to a four-year school?
If a four-year degree is still in the back of your mind, look for a community college that has a transfer agreement with a four-year school in your area. These transfer agreements ensure you can move all your credits earned in community college toward your four-year degree program. In some cases, counselors work with students directly to ensure the courses they take at the community college level will be the best contributors toward their eventual four-year degree program.
Can I find work after graduation?
Community colleges have a long and illustrious history in the United States, serving as essential institutions of higher education for millions of Americans. As the federal government works toward graduating more Americans from college in the future, these schools offer promise that their integral education role will not diminish. In fact, all signs tell us that the attraction and purpose of community colleges in the U.S. will only grow.
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