Community colleges are a wonderful way to begin an academic journey. Students can receive a solid education which will prepare them to transfer earned credits to a bachelor's degree at another school. If a college transfer is not in the cards, a degree earned at a community college can provide the skills needed to enter a specific field through one of their associate degrees or certificate programs.
Beginning your education or starting your career at a community college opens up all sorts of possibilities. There are many benefits associated with this route as the first (or final) step in higher education.
Enjoy Affordable Costs
Probably the biggest consideration for most students is the financial aspect of going to college. While all college is expensive, the tuition offered at community colleges can't be beat and, as a result, is a more affordable option. You get a first rate education and because the tuition doesn't carry the hefty price tag that goes along with attending a prestigious university, you can get a comparative education without breaking the bank. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, the average annual tuition and fees from 2013-14 was $3,260 (public, in district) as opposed to $8,890 (public, in state). 2
Keep in mind, the above figures do not account for housing and meal plans. Students graduating high school who have the opportunity to live at home and attend college locally can save quite a bit of money by going to a 2-year school with plans to transfer. Especially if a student is looking to take general education classes as part of a core curriculum. You'll get the same education if you're taking English 101, a first-level science course, Western Civilization or any other basic course needed regardless of where you've taken it. Most often, the same textbooks are used.
Having the experience of taking basic classes at both a community college and a 4-year institution, I would say it can be argued the more expensive college didn't offer any more insight into the general education requirements, and the quality of learning was equivalent. Why pay top dollar for the same course?
Experience a Low-Stress Application Process
Many students get overwhelmed by SATs, essays, entrance tests and interviews. Applying to a community college is not stressful at all, and the process is pretty straightforward. It is not uncommon in many of these schools to be able to have your admission form and registration slip processed in a matter of minutes. Some cases, both can be done right on the spot (this may depend on the college - the school extension site I worked at we were able to do admissions, registration and bursar all at the same time for students).
Most colleges (both community and 4-year institutions) also offer online applications, there has been a big push for that in recent years – the difference is community colleges typically have open enrollment and you’ll get a faster response. It also eliminates the competitiveness that often accompanies applying to 4-year colleges.
Find Credits are Highly Transferable
Attending community college before transferring to a 4-year institution is a good way to get those pre-requisites (if needed) and general education courses under your belt. During my time doing admissions at a community college, it was common to see many students from other bachelor and graduate degree programs transferring in to pick up lower level introductory classes they were missing from their transcripts.
These students were attracted by the same quality of learning they received, but with lower cost; students simply transferred these credits back to their degree programs at their primary college. Usually, they'd do this during the summer between semesters.
Receive a Quality Education
Two-year colleges often get a bad rap and community colleges are often criticized with claims that students are getting an inferior education. Nothing is further from the truth. Many students find their degree programs more than adequately prepared them to move onto the next level of education or properly prepared them to go straight to work in their careers.
Many of the instructors are “adjuncts” (not full-time college employees) who frequently actually work in the fields they teach. Faculty at community colleges are typically made up of both full-time professors and part-time adjuncts so you get the best of both worlds – education coupled with "real world" lessons and current trends in industry. Professors also aren't typically preoccupied with research and publishing and other requirements placed on them that other professors have at 4-year schools, the primary focus is on the student.
Have an Enriching Experience
My years spent both as a student and an employee at community college was an enriching experience. The environment is a diverse one and you get to interact with people from all ages, cultures and backgrounds. You can attend a large college or a small-town college (or at an extension site from a large one, giving you the “small-town” experience). The student population is unique, and this experience can highly enrich the education experience.
Community college is a door that opens up excellent prospects in higher education. Earning a degree in this environment can give you a great opportunity to have the freedom to explore your options while deciding what program to major in for a bachelor degree. The instruction received at a community college is typically all-encompassing, well-defined and provides a solid foundation as you prepare to move onto the next phase in your academic career.
Many students find starting at a 2-year school to be an enriching experience
Attending community college can be a valuable experience. In 2015, FastWeb, a website dedicated to providing college resources, noted four out of every 10 high school graduates were opting to go take the 2-year route:
"Two-year colleges are the largest and fastest-growing sector of higher education. There are over 1,600 community colleges in the United States serving 11 million students." 1
The first-rate education many students receive through a broad spectrum of foundational knowledge needed to pursue a degree is an excellent springboard to move on to the next level of education. Many students find the courses completed at 2-year colleges for degree programs well-prepared them for the bachelor level.
Community college is an excellent gateway for students to enter higher education or a career field as it opens up a realm of possibilities.
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