How Community Colleges are Outperforming 4 Year Universities

How Community Colleges are Outperforming 4 Year Universities
Learn how community colleges are outperforming 4 year universities in several different areas.

While four-year universities are traditionally believed to outperform community colleges, new research highlights that the contrary is often true. With the evolution of revolutionary and competitive community college programs across the country, these institutions are providing students with more financially reasonable, convenient, and equitably challenging academic experiences.

Class Size and Student-Teacher Interaction

In his study of community colleges, Kevin Carey surveyed students from both community colleges and four-year universities. Carey reached the steady conclusion that community college students consistently reported classroom experiences of greater interaction, discussion, and one-on-one opportunities, versus university survey results. According to his research, over 2/3 of community college students engage in class discussions by asking questions and interacting; on the contrary, only of polled university students reported this experience. Continuing, surveys revealed that community college students received more prompt feedback from professors, in addition to reporting more opportunities for student and professor interaction.

This video illustrates the differences between community colleges and four-year colleges.

Indeed, community colleges tend to have smaller class sizes, which naturally lend to greater interaction between students and teachers. In contrast, many universities, especially public ones, have larger auditorium class sizes, prompting some students to feel disconnected from their professors.

Academic Challenges and Comparisons

Also found through his educational surveys, Kevin Carey reports that most significantly, the academic challenges of the studied community colleges prove to be comparable to the four-year university experiences. Since universities often focus on both teaching and research, community colleges have a more stringent focus on academic instruction, as opposed to academic investigation. As Carey explains, “The first concern of the research university is, unsurprisingly, research. Community colleges, by contrast, are far more focused on teaching, and some are doing it better than even the most esteemed four-year institutions”

Indeed, the community college’s focus on teaching, versus publishing, often fosters a stronger environment of student focus, as professors implement practiced and effective teaching strategies. As one student reports, “I’ve had community college instructors who were there because they wanted to teach at a college-level and they were […] good at it. They could break down some utterly confusing and complicated calculus or chemistry or physics moment into its most simplified, basic form and with one eloquent statement sweep it up, explain it, and have it all fall into place, fully comprehended, in my head.”

This video offers another take on the difference between community colleges and four-year institutions.

On the other hand, this student also reveals, “I’ve had university profs who were so busy with their research (which is, unfortunately, the only way to achieve and maintain professor status) that they were more like silent partners in the course.”

Taking away the “publish or perish” threat for university professors, community colleges often provide students with more learning-centered opportunities, in a less distracted and multi-purpose teaching environment. Ultimately, Gene Richardson, director of admissions and records at Holmes Community College in Goodman explains: "The quality of instruction we've found is as good or better than at larger four-year institutions […] All the teachers in the community and junior colleges, or almost all of them, are required to have master's degrees or higher.”

Financial Cost

By and large, community colleges normally provide degree-oriented programs at a fraction of the cost, compared to most universities. Elizabeth Kirkland, of Goliath Business Knowledge, explains: “Community or junior college is clearly the right route for a lot of students -- about one-third of all college graduates start out at one. And with the rising costs of everything from books to tuition to housing, community and junior colleges may be the best choice for those looking to save a little money.”

In this video, a community college compares its tuition costs with four-year institutions.

Since community colleges are able to offer valuable and highly acclaimed programs at a fraction of the cost, many more people are able to pursue their own educational paths, without being limited by financial constrictions. As Liz Addison of The New York Times supports: “the community college system to be one of America’s uniquely great institutions […] For some students, from many backgrounds, would never breathe the college experience if it were not for the community college.”

Student Life and Opportunities

While universities often require on-campus living, community colleges allow students to commute, which often fosters an educational experience of greater convenience. In addition, the locale of community colleges provides for a better transition, as students do not necessarily have to move to a new city.

Furthermore, Pam Harrison, vice president for finance at Meridian Community College, says “community and junior colleges give students a good introduction into college life without having to leave town, while at the same time giving students the opportunity to take classes with fewer students in them, which means more personal attention.”

In the perspective of the classroom, campus, and financial elements, community colleges offer a great learning experience, easily rivaling that of the four-year university.
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