Taking the Honors Track at Community College vs. a Regular Four-Year College Path

Taking the Honors Track at Community College vs. a Regular Four-Year College Path
Valedictorians and honors students are increasingly choosing honors programs at community colleges instead of four-year institutions after graduating from high school. Learn about the trends and benefits of taking the honors track at a community college before transferring to a four-year institution.
The face of college education in America is changing, especially on community college campuses. While community colleges were once unfairly labeled as “13th grade,” these two-year institutions now provide plentiful opportunities for high-achieving students to challenge themselves.  Indeed, a growing number of high school valedictorians and honors students are enrolling in community colleges afterhigh school
Community Colleges Increasingly Serving the Best and the Brightest
Prompted in part by economic concerns, a number of top high school students are choosing to forego enrollment at prestigious four-year universities in favor of spending their first two years in an honors program at a community college.  Indeed, the savings can be dramatic, and these students can save $80,000 by attending community college first, instead of a private college.  
These honors programs, most of which are highly selective and academically rigorous, are designed to provide academically talented students with intellectual challenges for an affordable price, and they are more popular now than they have ever been.

Honors Programs at Two-Year Colleges Are Thriving

A recent article in the Washington Post reported that applications to community college honors programs are growing at a quicker rate than general applications, which are also on the rise. Honors programs of particular note include:

* The Montgomery Scholars program of Maryland's Montgomery College. This highly selective program, which is ten years old, has only 25 seats available and received a record 275 applications for Fall 2009, according to the Post.

* The Rouse Scholars program at Maryland's Howard Community College.  The program is in its eighteenth year and includes study abroad opportunities.

* The Marizopa Community College Honors Program in Tempe, Arizona. This college builds its honors program each year around the annual study topic chosen by Phi Theta Kappa, the national honors society for two-year college students. The study topic for the 2009-2010 year is "The Paradox of Affluence: Choices, Challenges, and Consequences," and will serve as the organizing principal for the honors program throughout the academic year.
* The Henry Ford II Honors Program at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, Michigan. As a highly competitive program, high school seniors are encouraged to apply early, and upon acceptance, participants work directly with faculty mentors who guide them through independent projects during their first two years and help them gain admission to leading four-year universities.  
* The Honors Program at Elgin Community College in Elgin, Illinois. High school students who graduated at the top 20% of their class and meet SAT and GPA requirements can apply for the honors program, which allows participants to enjoy smaller class sizes and greater educational opportunities outside of the classroom walls. 
Why High-Achieving High School Students Choose the Two-Year College Route

In weighing the acceptance letters between four-year universities and honors programs at community colleges, many high-achieving high school students are choosing the latter for a variety of reasons. 
* Small class sizes. Newsweek reports that students may choose the two-year college route for more than purely financial reasons; the traditionally smaller class sizes at community colleges can also make for "a more nurturing environment."  The Anne Arundel Community College Honors program, for example, boasts on its website that its classes are limited to 15 students only, which is a dramatic difference when compared to the 300 students you can find in a public university’s lecture hall. 

* Potential to transfer to prestigious four-year universities. Prestigious four-year universities are increasingly eager to accept high-achieving transfer students from two-year colleges. For example, the Washington Post reports that Howard Community College has a formal transfer agreement with Dickinson College, a competitive liberal arts school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Even if it does not include a formal transfer agreement, an honors program can greatly help a student's chances of transferring to a selective four-year college or universities. The website for the honors program for the North Shore Community College of Massachussetts reports that graduates of its program have transferred to Smiths, Tufts, Wellesley, Boston University, and the University of Massachusetts.

* Value. Those who seek out the intellectual challenges of honors programs at two-year colleges often find an unbeatable educational value. According to the Washington Post, students who enroll in honors programs at two-year colleges can complete half of their undergraduate education requirements for about $8,000, which is much more affordable than both public and private four-year institutions. 

* Intellectual Community. Some parents and teachers may advise students against choosing the two-year college route, fearing that students will miss out on the opportunities of learning from other bright students at a four-year college. However, honors programs often offer their students a robust intellectual community. The Honors Experience Program at the Northern Essex Community College in Massachusetts is one of many programs where honors students have the opportunity to participate in specially organized social and cultural events, in addition to having access to a specially designated Honors Lounge.

A New Community College Experience

In today's era of tighter family budgets and skyrocketing tuition costs at four-year universities, more students and parents are realizing that community colleges deserve a second look. The traditional image of the community college as the enclave of low-skilled students in need of remediation is being supplanted by a new understanding that community colleges can offer even the most ambitious students unsurpassed opportunities to fulfill their academic aspirations.
A Community College Times report on the rise of community college honors programs quotes Christine Arnold-Lourie, a history professor at the College of Southern Maryland; Arnold-Lourie says that although many people don't realize it, "you can challenge yourself academically to the height of your potential" in a community college honors program.
For those looking to reach the heights of their potentials while also making their college degrees more affordable, honors programs at two-year colleges may be the perfect choice.
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