Graduate Program Coordinator, Graduate Business Services
Community colleges as a gateway to higher education
The expression 'higher education' might bring to mind an absurd image of eager high school students arriving on campus with bags packed for orientation day. They might be gazing up at stoic brick-and-mortar buildings in awe, and maybe a little giddy anticipation. Heck, depending on who you're talking to, they might even still be wearing their high school graduation cap and gowns. Although you probably don't need me to tell you that this image is off the mark, there's another popular conception that has yet to be debunked - that a college education begins in freshman year at a four-year college.
More people than ever are continuing their education beyond high school. The approximate number of high school graduates who attend college in the US (averaged between all 50 states) is 58%. These students are entering college through different circumstances; many aren't coming directly out of high school, and some have families and careers. While many people overestimate the promise a four-year institution holds, just as many underestimate the opportunities offered by a two-year community school. Community colleges have a lot of advantages for a lot of people, and whether you're working a day job to make ends meet; supporting a family; or you're a high school grad who just feels they aren't ready yet for a four-year school; a community college is worth checking out when deciding when and where you're going to 'elevate' your education.
-A cost-effective education
This may be the most appealing thing about community schools. While most four-year colleges will rack of an annual bill of over ten thousand dollars, most community schools cost a fraction of that - the average annual tuition for community schools (which number around 1170 throughout the country) in the US is under two thousand. Also, just like four-year schools, community colleges can offer financial aid to alleviate the cost.
While not all the credits you take at a community school can transfer to a four-year institution, many universities will accept a great deal of them, and you could feasibly complete three semesters worth of a four-year school for the four semesters you spent in community college. This may seem like an unequal trade, but if you didn't have the best grades in high school, but you score well in the community school, this will look great to an admissions office and it could help you get into a better school of your choice. Not only that, but as many four-year schools have
requisite (General Education) courses to take, and your community credits will likely extend to cover those, you aren't really 'losing' time - you may have an extra semester to complete, but think of the opportunity cost (time at home, money earned through work) in addition to the several thousands you'd have to had paid to actually attend that four-year school instead.Also, if you have an idea of what you would like to major in at the four-year college, you could check with their registrar and find out which of your community classes would contribute to your major. That way, you may be able to take extra classes during your semesters at the community school and nullify that extra semester at the four-year, while retaining the thousands of dollars in savings.
Many community schools are located in a city or a suburb, and are accessible through public transportation. In most cases, you'd be attending a community school nearby your home, and sometimes parking can be a pain. It's much easier by taking a bus, and (speaking of thousands of dollars...) you'd save on gas, too.
Almost half the students attending a community school are full time workers, and community colleges offer course schedules to accommodate that. You might find out you're not interested in a four-year college after all, in which case you could still take classes part time to earn a raise or a promotion at your job while still working. College isn't for everybody, and a community school is a great way to test the waters while remaining close to home and without making a costly investment.
When deciding from your list of colleges which one you think is right for you, I'd recommend adding a local community school to the bottom of the list and taking a tour. It's easy to initially disdain from them in favor of their more prestigious four-year counterparts, but if you get over that, you may find yourself with several thousands saved in the bank, a great education for the price, and a couple more years' time to make a better-informed choice.