Did your high school guidance counselor tell you about community college when you discussed post-secondary options? If not, you’re not alone. Community colleges are often overlooked in career planning with young people, and so students can go on to form misconceptions about them. In addition to the many benefits community colleges offer, there also some myths about them, which we’re here to put to rest.
See also: 5 Solid Benefits of Community College
1. “The Professors Are Subpar”
“This concept is so strange to me,” says Catherine Eagan, Instructor of English at Las Positas College, a community college in the Bay Area of California. “Most [instructors] come to community college because they love teaching and that’s their focus, as opposed to something they just do once or twice per semester.” Eagan is referring to the heavy research and publication requirements placed on faculty at many four-year universities. Community college professors, by contrast, are not required to publish.
Rachel Sosta, who teaches in the English Department at Santa Ana College in southern California, grew up watching her father teach in community college and make a difference in his students’ lives, and she wanted to do the same thing. “I am a Chicana, and a second-generation college student,” she says. “In my family there has always been a strong emphasis on service, and to me, teaching at a community college is a way to use my education to serve my community.”
Eagan says teaching at a community college has made her both a better person and a better American — a sentiment Sosta echoes when she explains the importance of teaching underrepresented and underserved students with real barriers to education (whether those are financial, related to mental or physical health, or intense family obligations). Sosta says community college allows her to focus on teaching and student success — her strong suits. Who wouldn’t want to go to school with professors so devoted to their students’ development?
2. “The Classes Are Easy”
This notion that community college is like “college lite” might stem from their open enrollment policy. Nobody is turned away for previous academic failure. But that doesn’t mean community college dishes out easy A’s for breezy work. “I work hard to make my students feel comfortable in a college classroom, but I hold them to very high standards,” Sosta says.
Eagan says Las Positas is expanding its honors program. Students seeking more enrichment can work one on one with instructors on additional projects. “It’s a mentor relationship,” says Eagan, who loves conferencing with students on sophisticated projects. In other community colleges, students might even find dedicated honors sections for bigger courses. She says, “Especially in the sciences, students can work closely with their professors on projects and really build skills and professionalization.”
Additionally, community college professors are finding ways to work in “soft skills” like writing professional emails, time management, and navigating financial aid services on top of the academic requirements for their courses.
3. “There’s No Campus Life”
Community colleges generally don’t have dorms, so campus life is never going to be as robust as it is for a school where the students spend 24/7 together. That said, for students looking to get involved, community college offers opportunities. Eagan says there are lots of interesting clubs at her school, where she serves as advisor for the Peace and Social Justice Club. “Whether students think it’ll look good on their resume or just want experience with service activities, we’ve got a little of everything. We even have a club for students who are parents.”
“I work hard to make my students feel comfortable in a college classroom, but I hold them to very high standards.”
Over the years, Eagan has even taken students abroad. She explains that many times, community colleges will form consortiums to pool resources and offer international learning opportunities where students can earn credits doing some of the research work at home and completing course requirements on trips.
4. “A Community College Degree Doesn’t Look as Attractive to Employers”
Elizabeth Johnston, executive director of public relations and marketing for Community College of Allegheny County, asserts that this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, many of her CCAC students graduate with job offers, she says. CCAC is known for their programs in medical careers, but is also building a name for itself among employers in manufacturing, the automotive industry, and robotics. “Our courses are taught by industry professionals who emphasize transferrable skills,” she explains.
Johnston says community colleges work hard to assess the needs of their populations, and that includes school leadership partnering with the state departments of labor and employers themselves to predict trends and needs in high demand occupations. Johnston says these relationships result in highly marketable skills learned from courses and programs that meet the needs of the labor market. In Southwestern PA, Johnston says one out of every 45 jobs is touched by a program from CCAC. The American Association of Community Colleges estimates there are 30 million well-paying jobs available for community college graduates.
5. “Community College Credits Won’t Transfer”
This commonly held belief really stumps Johnston. She points out the wealth of resources at community college in terms of career counseling, placement support, personal, and transfer counseling. Entire groups of professionals are dedicated to helping create a seamless transition from CCAC to other four-year institutions across the state and, in many cases, the nation.
Johnston says, further, that many CCAC students are enrolled in four-year institutions for fall and spring semesters but take courses over the summer months to get ahead in their programs. The credits transfer easily because of agreements that community colleges make with other institutions of higher learning.
Additionally, high school students regularly enroll at community colleges in “dual enrollment” programs that allow them to take college-level courses in areas ranging from psychology (the most popular dual-enrollment option at CCAC) to HVAC.
Johnston, Eagan, and Sosta are passionate about community colleges as true community resources. By definition, these institutions seek to serve anyone looking to expand their education. In Allegheny County, that means serving one in three adults, which is really saying something for a place where there are more than 10 traditional colleges to choose from.
Their advice for would-be students who’ve heard some not-so-great myths about community college? Tour campus, ask questions, and see for yourself how these schools can open doors to any path you choose.
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