Community College is Not a Bad Word

There are many good reasons to attend a community college.

by Anne Vaccaro Brady

I’ve heard too many parents use “community college” as a threat to their kids who don’t work hard in school or who refuse to get on the ball when it comes to looking for colleges. This confuses me because community college is a viable and smart option for many young adults.

Community colleges are public institutions that offer two-year associate’s degrees. Classes are taught by full-time professors and adjunct professors. The latter teach part-time, hold advanced degrees or comparable professional experience, but aren’t considered on-staff. And yes, there’s homework. I remember a friend of my daughter’s complaining about all the work he had during his freshman year at the local community college. This is college, plain and simple, and shouldn’t be dismissed as anything less.

 

The money issue There’s a financial advantage to attending community college. Commuter students will find it cheaper than attending the nearest state school. Students at almost all colleges and in practically every major are required to take what are often referred to as “gen ed” courses. These are a series of required classes that give students a foundation in the liberal arts, making them more knowledgeable and well-rounded adults.

Many families choose community college so their kids can take these general education courses at a more affordable price, making it possible to save money toward  the additional two years of tuition needed to get a bachelor’s degree in a specific major. If your child will need to take out loans to pay for college, this will allow him to borrow less money.

A path to a four-year degree The state college where I worked offered a program with six community colleges for students in the natural and social sciences. The community college students were mentored by the state college professors whom they conducted research with during the summer. After receiving their associate’s degrees, these students smoothly moved into a bachelor’s degree program at the state college.

Not all transitions work as well. If your teenager plans to attend community college, she must work closely with her academic adviser to ensure the credits for the courses she’s taking will be accepted at her next college. Knowing which college she plans to transfer to will help because she and her advisor can work with that school to learn which courses they require for her particular major.

A place to learn skills and more Community colleges are some of the few institutions that still teach the “trades.” Today, if you want to become a plumber, electrician, mechanic, or heating or air conditioning specialist, you need training and that’s available here. Preparation for careers in health care, computer science and information technology are also offered on these campuses. These jobs, which provide a real living wage, continue to be in-demand and the well-trained applicant is more likely to get hired.

An opportunity to mature Some kids never find the motivation to work hard in high school until senior year, when it’s often too late to get their grades up and their SAT scores where they need to be to get into a four-year college. Community colleges accept all applicants, so they’re ideal for the student who is coming a little late to the game or the athlete whose grades aren’t good enough to get a scholarship. In two years she can have decent grades, an associate’s degree and a better opportunity to continue on at a four-year college of her choice or to receive that athletic scholarship.

The same can be said for the student who has no idea whether he’s really up for four more years of school or has no clue what to even consider for a major. I’ve heard parents say it’s not worth putting out the extra money for their child to meander his way through four years at a private college. The point is especially valid for cash-strapped families.

Not the perfect choice for everyone The main criticism I’ve heard against attending community college is that the level of coursework is less challenging because of the caliber of students. Community colleges offer remedial classes for students unprepared for college, but for everyone else working toward a degree from day one, they provide solid, college-level coursework found at most four-year schools. Academic advisors steer their students to the classes that will best prepare them for their next step.

A valedictorian of our local high school attended community college for two years because she didn’t receive enough financial aid to pay tuition at any of her top choice colleges. She was so successful in her two years there that she received a full-scholarship from a top college to earn her bachelor’s degree.

Community college should be included in the college discussion, not as a punishment, but as a serious option for higher education.

Share your experience with community college in the comments section below.

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