What is a Community College?
- Associate degrees (Two-year degrees).
- Transfer Programs. A transfer program is a program of study that a student takes while planning to transfer the credits earned to a program within a four-year college. Transfer programs do not necessarily culminate in a 2-year associate degree, hence the distinction.
- One-year certificates used to certify that the student has a completed a minimum required set of coursework for a chosen vocational field. Examples of one-year certificates offered at Colby Community College in Kansas include the Administrative Medical Assisting Certificate, the Management Certificate, and the Practical Nursing Certificate. Many times, these one-year certificates prepare students for licensure examinations.
- Career studies (including continuing education coursework).
This short video entitled Why I Love Community College gives you an overview of community colleges.
- Cost. On average, attending a community college will be less expensive than attending a four-year college. According to the Educationdata.org, the average annual tuition for a public community college is $3,300 for in-district students and $8,200 for out-of-district students. Shippensburg University, a public four-year university, annual tuition costs approximately $30,000. At Harrisburg Area Community College, a community college about an hour away, tuition costs $20,000. At Dickinson College, a small private college in the area, tuition runs $73,000. Financial aid, scholarships, and grants can lower the cost of higher education. Always ask about financial aid even if you think that you do not qualify.
- When a student has not picked a major: If the student does not know what he or she wants to do or has not picked a major yet, going to a community college can help them do their general underclass work. They can finish their undergraduate level work without committing themselves to a four-year college that may end up not being the best choice given what they do end up majoring in. Although colleges can be compared one to one, they often have specific reputations for individual programs of study contained within each college or university (i.e. pre-law, pre-med, or engineering programs).
- When a student needs or wants to attend college part-time. Most community colleges have evening courses for students to attend after work. While private colleges usually expect students to attend full-time, most community colleges have programs in place to accommodate students who must pursue their studies part-time. According to the AACC, 62% of students attending community colleges go part-time with 38% of the student body attending full-time.
- When a student’s grades from high school are poor: Private and public four-year schools do not have to accept students. Community colleges are generally for everybody (at least the public ones). A student can go to a community college to help build up their GPA and then reapply to a four-year school with a better grade record.
- When the student wants a career-oriented degree that may not require a four-year degree, a community college may be a faster option: For example, Austin Community College in Texas, provides a one year Texas Peace Officer Certificate (34 credits), an Automotive Brake and Suspension Certificate (24 credits), and a Pharmacy Technician Certificate (24 credits) among many others.
Learn about the benefits of attending community college in this brief video.
- Students will likely not have an on-campus living experience while attending community college. Some feel that the social atmosphere offered by on-campus living is an integral part of the development and the entire college experience. The student’s ability to make and develop friends may be limited in the community college setting since students go home after classes.
- Community colleges may not have additional programs like sports, drama and dance groups, marching bands, cheerleading, etc. that one would find with four-year colleges.
- The student needs to be careful about “Articulation Agreements.” Many students attend community college with the idea that they will transfer after finishing their associate’s degree and continue their education at a four-year college. What they have to watch out for is that all of their coursework is, indeed, transferable and will be counted as required credits at their target transfer college. The College Board explains that the Articulation Agreement is the agreement that four-year schools often have with community colleges which outlines that once the student has successfully finished their transfer program at the two-year college, they will be accepted into the four-year school as a junior. These agreements are routinely updated so do not rely on old information when planning which community/four-year college to go to. For example, Shippensburg University has an Academic Passport Program with 23 community colleges nearby in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New Jersey. This means if a student wants to maximize the number of credits that they complete at the community college which will convey over to Shippensburg University, they should probably limit their community college to one of the 23 that has an “Academic Passport Program” with Shippensburg.