By Amy Resnic
Role of community colleges
Community colleges are two-year institutions that are also commonly referred to as junior, technical, and city colleges. As an essential part of postsecondary education, the term "community college" is derived from the fact that they mainly attract and accept students from the local community. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, there are approximately 1,200 community colleges in the United States, serving approximately 6.5 million students, with an average age of 29. Community colleges pride themselves as providing educational opportunities to all who can benefit regardless of race, creed, or ethnic background. Programs offered at these colleges range from business management and marketing, to health and technical professions, and generally lead to an associate degree, certificate degree for a specified occupation, or a transfer to a four-year school.
Community colleges as part of the global economy
Community colleges are increasingly becoming part of the global economy, and not just part of the local community. Increased globalization of our economy has resulted in many jobs moving overseas. Competitiveness for jobs in the United States requires higher levels of skills than years ago. Recognizing that education has become vital to compete more effectively internationally, President Obama announced in July of 2009 a $12 billion initiative to boost graduation rates, improve facilities, and develop new technology at community colleges. This initiative is challenging community colleges to broaden their missions to train our workforce for the jobs of the future.
Benefits of choosing a community college versus a four-year school
- Reduced cost is a major benefit of choosing a community college. The average annual tuition for full-time students at community colleges is approximately $2,400, versus approximately $6,200 for public four-year colleges, and upwards of $25,000 for a private four-year university. Some students reduce costs by starting at a community college and then only doing two years at a four-year school.
- Flexible schedules to accommodate work and family responsibilities. Four-year colleges usually meet throughout the day and essentially requires a full-time commitment. Most community colleges provide the flexibility of evening and weekend classes for those students who need to work full or part-time while earning their degree. Approximately two-thirds of community college students attend part-time.
- Many career choices do not require a four-year degree. For example, some jobs in the technology and service areas only require certificate or associate degrees.
- Low high school grades or SAT scores. Community colleges have an open enrollment policy, allowing students who have performed poorly to attend college. This allows students to start fresh and then transfer to a four-year school. It is also a good option for students who are unsure if they want to go to college to try courses before committing to a school.
- Smaller class size and accessible faculty. Freshman classes at a four-year institution can be upwards of 200-300 students. Classes at community colleges tend to be smaller, allowing for more individualized attention. Smaller classes, coupled with the fact that the faculty is primarily teaching and not spending time on research and publishing, also allow professors more time to help students outside of class time.
Choosing the right community college
Many factors may play into the selection process when choosing a community college. The following steps are helpful in making the correct choice:
- What is the goal for attending school? Students should identify which programs or job sectors they find most interesting. Determining an objective is the first step to figuring out the proper degree program. Compare programs at nearby colleges, as well as the classroom environment and education of the professors.
- Once a program is chosen, confirm the cost. College counselors can help you determine if any financial assistance or scholarships are available.
- Depending on work and family responsibilities, select a college that offers classes that are most convenient. If work schedules are a factor while attending school, it is a good idea to look at a current class schedule to determine a good fit.
- Student support including job market assistance is important in a good community college program. Speaking with alumni is also helpful in this area.
- Research whether the college is accredited by a recognized accrediting agency. Accreditation along with transfer requirements are crucial if a student decides to continue with a four-year degree. Transferring credits or an associates degree to a four-year school is much easier if the college has an articulation agreement with any other colleges, which states exactly which classes will transfer between schools.