In the past, four-year universities always seemed to carry more prestige and practical professional preparation than their two-year counterparts. However, as prices for universities continue to rise and community colleges expand their fields of study and improve their quality, the field of higher education appears to be changing. Today, community college enrollment is increasing exponentially at schools across the country, while four-year institutions have seen a small drop in student population within the past year. We’ll take a look at the numbers and explore some of the reasons why more students might be choosing to go to community college today.
Changing Times or One-Time Blip?
According to a recent story in the Courier-News, national college enrollment figures dropped last year by about two percentage points. While a single-year statistic is nothing to write home about, many financial experts see this downturn as the beginning of a trend – the burst of the bubble on higher education. Some attribute the lower enrollment to fewer jobs and higher tuition rates that make parents and students alike question the real value of a bachelor’s degree today.
At the same time, enrollment numbers for many community colleges across the country continue to rise. And enrollment isn’t the only statistic that is going up. The Courier-News also reported that Waubonsee Community College in Illinois graduated its largest class in history this past spring. Elgin Community College followed suit with their most recent graduating class.
Waubonsee spokesman Jeff Noblitt told the Courier-News, “That’s really the biggest trend as a college. And nationally, community colleges have put a bigger emphasis on earning your degree, not just transferring on without taking your associate’s. Otherwise, if you have to take time off school before you finish your bachelor’s, you’re left without that valuable credential.” Noblitt added that the affordability of community colleges, as well as the current administration’s support of the schools, is contributing to the higher enrollment and graduation rates around the country.
This video compares community colleges and four-year colleges.
The Pros of Community College
With a sluggish economy and a high unemployment rate, more students are tuning into the many benefits of community college. According to Scholarship.com, those benefits include:
- A lower tuition rate that can save students thousands of dollars toward earning their four-year degree, if they transfer their credits at the end of a two-year program
- The ability to explore a variety of majors without breaking the tuition bank in the first two years of the higher education experience
- Smaller class sizes that allow for more personalized instruction – a particular boon for students who might worry about their academic performance at a four-year university
- Qualified professors, who might be newer to the teaching field but are well-trained in their academic area of expertise
- A flexible schedule that provides both day and night courses for students who have families and must work full time during their college experience
- The ability to transfer credits to another institution if additional education is desired – particularly with schools that have transfer agreements with the universities in their area
- Open admission policies at many schools allow students who did not perform as well in high school the opportunity to pursue a higher education
While there are numerous benefits to heading to a community college, either right out of high school or midway through a career, the decision is not right for everyone. Scholarships.com also reports on some of the drawbacks of community college, including:
- Fewer classes to choose from, as most community colleges are limited to degree programs that can be completed in just two years
- The lack of a campus community, although some community colleges are adding on-campus living that allows students to experience college life to the fullest
- Lack of involvement in other activities, since many students at community colleges have families or are working full time at the same time they are attending school
This video offers another comparison of community colleges with four-year colleges.
Is Community College Right for You?
When weighing the pros and cons, it is really up to each individual student as to whether community college is a better option. The reason for going to community college instead of a four-year university may be financial, academic, or career-oriented. According to CollegeBoard.com, community college may be a good choice if you fall into one of the following categories:
- You would like to save money on the cost of your higher education
- You are planning to transfer to a four-year university after your two-year program is completed
- You want to “try-out” college for a period of time to see if the world of higher education is a good fit for you
- You need a flexible schedule that can work around your job or family responsibilities
- You are anxious to get started on a career and you want a condensed training program that will take you where you want to go faster
If you decide that community college is the best choice for you – as many Americans are doing today – it is important to select the best school for your needs. Since most areas of the country have a number of community colleges to choose from, it is much easier to tailor the school to meet your precise needs. Some of the factors to consider when choosing a community college include location, fields of study available, and the cost of tuition. The right community college can jumpstart your higher education efforts or your career prospects, with a fraction of the time and money required to earn your degree.
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