Community Colleges in a Minute offers you a look at community colleges in the United States from 30,000 feet.. Use it as a starting point to explore this very accessible college-level education option. Whether you are considering a two-year Associate's degree or want to upgrade your skills, your local community college has the courses and programs to help you achieve your goals. It also has an informative website. So, explore it, and don't hesitate to contact the college with questions.
The number of Community Colleges in the U.S.A.
According to the American Association of Community Colleges, there are approximately 1038 community colleges as of 2023. Nine hundred thirty-two are public colleges, 32 are tribal institutions, and 71 are independent.
The Number of Students Attending Community College:
Community colleges serve millions of students yearly, making them a significant part of the higher education landscape. Find out more about community colleges in the U.S. by visiting the American Association of Community Colleges website.
The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) is the primary advocacy organization for the nation’s community colleges. The association represents more than 1,000 2-year associate degree-granting institutions and nearly 12 million students.
Community colleges generally have open admission policies, making them accessible to a wide range of domestic students. North Carolina, for example, has a state-mandated Open door Admissions policy.
The colleges of the North Carolina Community College System maintain an “Open Door” admissions policy. This policy provides for the admission of any persons who are 18 or over or who have attained a high school diploma or its equivalent (GED). Source: College Foundation of North Carolina
Academic admissions criteria typically include a high school diploma or equivalent. Some community colleges will accept standardized test scores such as SAT and ACT. Many community colleges also allow dual enrollment by highly motivated high school students. The Community College Research Center offers a report on what happens to high school students who enroll in both high school and college.
Attending a community college is often an attractive option for international students because the academic admissions requirements are less stringent than many four-year colleges. Community colleges also tend to cost less. However, international students have additional hurdles, including obtaining a student visa and finding housing.
One of the attractive aspects of community colleges is their affordability. The average tuition cost for in-state students in 2023 is $8,200. Out-of-state students can expect to pay more, about $9,000 per year. In-state and out-of-state students will pay considerably less to attend a community college than a public or private college. Tuition costs at those institutions vary greatly but can reach $80,000 or more.
Tuition is only one component of the cost of attending a community college. Additional expenses, such as textbooks, supplies, and transportation, are some expenses students may incur while attending community college. These expenses can vary depending on the individual's circumstances.
According to U.S. News and World Report, be prepared to budget for health insurance, environmental fees, technology fees, course fees, first-year student fees, international student fees, student organization fees, transportation fees, parking fees, building fees, graduation fees, to name some of the charges you can expect to encounter. You would think institutions could bundle all the fees together and offer one cost figure. However, since student circumstances vary so greatly, that is not possible. Accordingly, list the extra non-tuition expenses you must pay when calculating the annual cost of attending a community college.
There are several financial aid options, such as federal grants, loans, and work-study programs, to help students cover the cost of attending community college. In her article, Financial Aid for Community College, for Forbes, Zina Kumok explains your options for paying for community college.
This video offers some suggestions for applying for financial aid.
Community Colleges offer a wide range of traditional academic courses that can lead to an Associate's degree. You can study math, history, American language and literature, government, and so on to complete your Associate's degree requirements and then transfer to a four-year college, having already completed your first two years of academic work for your Bachelor's degree. Completing four years of college-level academic work makes sound economic sense for many students.
Community colleges offer non-degree courses designed to train participants for specific careers. These course offerings change regularly according to market needs. Courses in IT, health care, hospitality, skilled trades, and more are designed to train participants for workforce opportunities quickly. These kinds of courses are invaluable for people dealing with a career change.
This video examines the healthcare programs offered at Central Oregon Community College.
Most instructors at community colleges are adjunct faculty, i.e., part-time teachers. Most are highly qualified and experienced. I remember teaching an Introduction to Music course as an adjunct faculty member. (The pay was terrible, but the students are outstanding!) Employing adjunct faculty is one of the ways community colleges try to control overhead. That, in turn, impacts the tuition cost.
GED (General Educational Development)
Community colleges often provide GED programs for individuals who still need to complete high school. Earning a GED can be a stepping stone to pursuing higher education at a community college. It also confirms basic learning skills as well as the motivation to have a goal and achieve it.
Community colleges function on campuses with facilities as varied as you can imagine. Location, demographics, course and program requirements, and funding determine the kind of facilities individual community colleges have. The description of the facilities at Reynolds Community College in Virginia gives you an idea of what to expect at most community colleges.
Governance and Administration
A board of trustees appointed by the state's governor and state legislature governs most community colleges. The trustees, in turn, appoint a professional administrator to oversee the college's operations. Governance and administration vary according to state and local laws and policies.
Read Public Funding of Community Colleges, a fact sheet from the Community College Research Center, for an overview of how community colleges are funded. Two-year colleges receive approximately 50% of the public funding that public four-year institutions receive.
There is wide variation in state policy contexts, governance structures, and funding mechanisms among community colleges. More than half of their public funding comes from state and local governments, and while federal funding has increased in recent decades, state funding has fallen. The large infusion of federal dollars during the pandemic—as well as the debate over increasing the federal role—has made effective federal funding policy even more critical. Source: Community College Research Center
Whether you are a young adult evaluating your choices for a college education or a mature adult exploring career change options, community colleges have much to offer.
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