It’s no secret that choosing a college is a massive and complicated decision. Some people know right away that they’ll join generations of their relatives attending a major university, without concern for cost. Others might be newcomers to even the idea of higher education. Still, you might be surprised to know that, regardless of your academic or financial situation, you might find the right fit at a community college. (Yes, even the honors students looking to study abroad.) These institutions can benefit students in a variety of ways: They can open doors to a four-year degree, foster workforce development, or even aid in skill building for professionals already on the job. Here’s a closer look at some of the solidly good reasons to consider community college:
This one is kind of a no-brainer. Community college costs way, way less than a university, whether that’s a public or private school. The average net price — that being the average amount students pay after grants and scholarships are factored in — for community college in America is $8,060 per year. Compare that to a four-year school with a net price, on average, of $18,869. In two years, that’s a savings of more than $20,000. Think of all the rent you could pay with an extra 20 grand, or how much farther your paycheck will stretch without having to whittle away at a loan that size.
Elizabeth Johnston, Executive Director of Public Relations for the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC), explains that community colleges also offer significant financial support to help students succeed, whether they need assistance with transportation, childcare, uniforms, or certification exams. She says, “Because community colleges have the word community in their name, we are focused on helping and assisting the needs of all members of the community. We are here to provide an education to anyone who wants that opportunity, and we firmly believe that money should not be a barrier to an education.”
You Aren’t Sure What Comes Next
Some kids are born knowing they want to be a pilot when they grow up. Or a marine biologist. Other kids know by the end of high school that they want to be a lawyer or an accountant. They enter college excited for their career, knowing just which courses they need.
But what if you’re not one of those kids? What if you have no idea what you want to do this weekend, let alone what you want to do for the next 40 years?
Community college offers an affordable pathway to try out different courses, and dip your toes in different areas of study. So, if you decide halfway through fall semester that you really can’t stand psychology, you’re out far less money than if you’d tried that course at the big party school down the highway.
Some high school grads also struggle with a lower-than-desired GPA, and community college can really help bolster college readiness to get you caught up and confident for your next step. Johnston says the academic support and tutoring services at community colleges have been proven to help students succeed. Just like any other college, community colleges offer peer tutors, organized study groups, faculty office hours, and robust career counseling centers where professionals can guide you through your options.
Many community colleges also work with veterans transitioning to civilian life. Johnston says the support staff in that department at CCAC are all people who have been in military service themselves and know first-hand what’s involved in that transition.
Another advantage of community college is the likelihood of landing an excellent instructor. Major universities have high expectations of their faculty. This is called the “publish or perish” mindset, where professors are expected to focus on research, produce results, and publish articles in well-known journals in order to earn promotion in their field.
Community college professors do not have this requirement, and Laura Ayers, Anthropology Faculty and Program Coordinator at Houston Community College, says for her and her colleagues, “Our focus is teaching and institutional service, which are both things I enjoy.”
Community colleges have open admission, which means a class can contain a wide variety of ages, economic backgrounds, and levels of academic preparation. And yet, the courses must maintain academic rigor because community college is still college, after all. Ayers says, “I always have to keep my students in mind when shaping assignments and requirements. I cannot assume access to resources [like access to a vehicle or time for group project meetings outside of class], but I never want to sacrifice rigor.”
Some of her science students have been learning about DNA for 10 years, while others were last in school before this concept was discovered. She and her community college colleagues are constantly developing ways to catch up some students while not boring others.
Ayers attends professional conferences to learn about new teaching resources and methods to improve student success and engagement. To meet her community college’s mission of education for all, Ayers teaches and reinforces life skills like email etiquette in addition to academic skills like citation and research. To keep things fresh, Ayers says, “I utilize a variety of techniques and assignments to address various learning styles, like lectures, videos, review games, and more.”
Small Class Size
Not only would you have paid more to take psychology at Major U, but you’d most likely have taken this intro level course in an auditorium with 300 other undergrads.
Community college is a space where you can prepare for a family-sustaining career in as little as two years.
Compare this to community college where the national average class size is 25 students — CCAC has an average class size of 16. How much more might you learn about an exploratory course if you’re part of a small group of learners, in a space where your instructor sees you every day and knows just where you might be struggling? Johnston points out that students in community college have a name, not just a number. In the honors program at CCAC, students even work one-on-one with professors for semester-long enrichment projects.
Community college is a space where you can prepare for a family-sustaining career in as little as two years. Johnston points out that CCAC students pursuing high demand occupations often complete their degree with job offers. This is a trend nationwide, as Matthew Meyer, associate vice president of educational innovations at North Carolina Community College System, told WRAL in 2017. He explained that the pipeline of highly-skilled workers from community colleges is not keeping up with demand, meaning lots of jobs are available to graduates.
Johnston echoes that community colleges will stay relevant. “College leadership works with the state and with employers to define needs and industry trends,” she says. Courses in many of these areas are taught by industry professionals who are building skills for careers that didn’t exist 20 years ago. Johnston says, “If we want to remain competitive on the world stage, we need skill sets that are transferrable.” Community colleges can also offer continuing education to people already in the work force looking to stay competitive in their fields.
CCAC is just one community college among more than 1,400 across the United States, and yet the institution has had a $2.5 billion impact on the region’s economy. Johnston says these institutions are sound fiscal stewards of the tax dollars that support them as they help the next generation of lifelong learners.
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