We look at why millions of Americans are choosing community college over a traditional four-year school today.
Community college enrollment has increased across the country in recent years, and there are many reasons for the influx of students. A sluggish economy, lower tuition rates and high quality education are just a few of those reasons. With community colleges finding a new role in educating students in America today, there are numerous compelling reasons to give these two-year schools another look.
Lower Rates, Less Debt
One of the top reasons students are considering community colleges over four-year schools today is an issue of cost. According to Yahoo Finance, the average annual cost to attend community college during the 2010-2011 school year was $8,734, which included tuition and books, room and board and living expenses. In contrast, the annual cost to attend a four-year school during the same year was $18,133. Even public institutions, which are supposed to offer a more budget-friendly option to four-year students, had an average annual cost of $13,297.
Tuition costs for two-year institutions hover at around $2,000-$3,000 per year. That amount is much more affordable than the tuition at four-year schools, which can run as high as $8,000 or more for public institutions and up to $50,000 or more for private schools. Students that qualify for significant scholarship money may find the four-year schools affordable, but those who don’t get any financial help may be out of luck.
Debt is another concern for students heading to four-year schools. Yahoo also cites the average amount of debt a student is saddled with after earning a four-year degree, which is around $26,000. Some sources put that figure a bit lower, around $23,000. Still, that much debt for someone coming right out of college and hunting for a job can be an overwhelming amount. By the same token, students graduating from community college may boast much smaller student loans, if they had any at all.
Students that didn’t perform as well as they would have liked in high school may find community colleges more willing to work with them to prepare them for the rigors of college-level academics. Most two-year schools offer a variety of remedial education to help students in basic areas like math, reading and writing. Some also offer programs for ESL students and others with specific learning needs. Some of these students use community college as a building block for improving their academic skills before transferring to a four-year school.
In addition, adult students that have been out of the world of academia for some time may find that community college makes for a smoother transition back to a school environment. This is true for professionals heading back to school after spending a number of years in the workforce. It is also helpful for members of the military that want to pursue additional education after their years of active duty. Many community colleges also provide additional services for these groups of students so they get the support they need to succeed in college.
The quality of education at a community college has improved considerably throughout the history of these schools. The Washington Post reports that general courses at community colleges are typically taught by college professors, rather than the grad students that often take on the teaching of the classes at four-year institutions. Two-year schools often forge transfer agreements with four-year schools in the area, which ensure students that want to move to a university from a community college enjoy full transfer ability and a smoother transition.
The higher level of education quality is attracting students from all areas and backgrounds as well. According to the Washington Post report, some community colleges are noticing a steady increase of students from families earning $60,000 or more per year. The publication also cited a recent survey by Sallie Mae that found 22 percent of students at community colleges during the 2010-2011 school year came from families that earn an annual income of $100,000 or more. Even families in this higher income bracket are becoming leery of taking on debt to pay for a college education, and many are discovering that community college is a viable option to the four-year experience.
Another big draw at community colleges today is their ability to train students for careers right in their locality. Community colleges have traditionally been known for their technical and professional training, but in recent years, these schools have taken this mission to a whole new level. Schools are offering programs for in-demand fields that greatly increase the odds a graduate will find employment after earning a degree. Partnerships with local business pinpoint training programs to the specific needs of employers in the area.
The New Hampshire Union Leader reported on the increase in manufacturing jobs in the state and across the country last year. While low-skill, repetitive factors jobs have gone overseas, there is still a high need in the United States for highly skilled laborers in advanced manufacturing positions. Employees in this field use high tech equipment to perform functions for fields like aerospace engineering, biotech and information technology. The employees need the proper training to move into positions that are open now, and community colleges are working to fill that skills gap with training programs designed specifically for the companies in their immediate area.
There are many reasons why more students are turning to community college today. With high quality education options, lower tuition rates and career-specific training, these institutions are proving to be a valuable education resource for the 21st century.
Many students enroll in community college with the intent of transferring to a four-year school. Of those who do, many succeed, and yet traditional colleges and universities continue to overlook them. Read on to learn more about why more community college students don’t transfer schools and to receive some tips for making the transfer yourself.
Community college is the only option for many students who either can’t afford a traditional four-year university or who need a more flexible school environment. Just because community college is different, however, doesn’t mean that its students matter any less. The Aspen Prize exists to encourage community colleges to do more for their students and to continually strive for improvement.
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