Further Your Opportunity: Attend a Community College

Degrees Lead to Transfers or Standalone Education

Your preconceived notions about the community college system are likely outdated and downright incorrect. My experience was much different than the one I initially anticipated. Historically the community colleges have been considered to be the college for the under-achievers, the students without fiscal resources for a four-year college or for the socially and culturally challenged searching for an easy route to a job as opposed to a career. Are these misconceptions or valid paradigms?

The community college system today is well-equipped, offers expansive professional degree and college prep programs, delivers extra doses of personal and academic attention, offers courses during off-peak hours and remains a very affordable choice—for the right student.

Your Right to a Higher Education

Four-year colleges have been widely considered the preferred path to a career and “the good life” beyond high school. However, indications are that these higher education “rules of thumb” are wearing thin. State governed public universities have historically taken academic precedence over their community college siblings. Stratification of the public higher education system in this manner addressed now outdated paradigms of economics, means, and motivation. Simply put students smart, eager and of-means would be white-collar workers—they’d attend universities—while those without the academics or the means and motivation would of course populate the blue-collar jobs. If they wanted to go to college, they’d attend the local community college.

Every American has the right to a college education. The good news is that the old order no longer applies.

Pre-Empting the Four-Year Degree

Community colleges are increasingly competitive, academically and financially. Academically a community college employs instructors that are experts in their field. Most hold at least a Masters degree and have experience teaching a range of students. They deliver up-to-the-moment practical information, the critical difference between a community college degree and a liberal arts degree. You’ll find most friendly and very willing to provide extra curricular assistance with tricky subject matter.

And as the business world turns increasingly toward highly trained professionals, the case for a community college degree as a route to a career in health care, IT or a social service such as social work, is rational and solid.

Buy Time and Widen Choices

Statistics show that a shocking percentage of high school students, regardless of means, are unprepared for the rigors of a four-year college or university straight from high school. While some of the findings point to motivation much of the problem is lack of proper preparation.

Community college gave me the time I needed to explore my options, get comfortable in my academic skin, and evaluate my career interests and skills. Since I had no idea what career track I would choose when I graduated from high school community college offered the flexibility and special attention I clearly needed at that time in my life. The academics course catalog gave me a wide berth of choices; from carpentry to web design, or a transfer program in which I could focus on fields such as chemistry, engineering, or a range of pre-med/health sciences programs. I was arguably immature for the rigors of a traditional college education, had performed poorly academically up to that point, and was unprepared to invest in an expensive degree/career choice.

For the growing population of international students a community college offers advanced English courses and other remedial or college prep programs that better prepare them for the next step into a four-year degree; again, choices and time.

A Logical Stepping Stone

In my case I eventually used my community college degree as a stepping-stone to a four-year college program. If news headlines are any indication, then many more students than I first realized are doing the same. In fact, four-year colleges are forging equitable relationships with local community colleges as a means by which to draw two-year graduates to a Bachelors program. The extra time I gave myself at my two-year program allowed me to build workable study skills, analytical skills, and evaluate my career interests. Of course I also saved money living at home with my parents. When I migrated to a campus environment I was much better prepared to make smart social and academic choices.

Embrace Open-Minded Career Counseling

Community colleges provide proactive career counseling advisors. The counselor I engaged was more than willing to talk to me about my educational options as well as address my general career indecision, which had come to be regarded as a terminal malaise by my parents and high school counselor.

Students the least bit curious about their local community college should not shy away from a sit-down with one of the career counselors. Part of the benefit of such an institution is its flexibility to offer more personal attention, more mentoring than your high school guidance counselor and certainly a career counselor at a four-year university has time for.

Cutting-Edge Facilities and Experienced Faculty

Since community colleges not only provide college prep programs, but also turn out technically trained professionals in areas such as computer networking, computer programming, pre-engineering, nursing and a range of highly technical healthcare fields, their facilities are often state of the art. Relationships forged between two-year colleges and local businesses and industries are win-win alliances. Talented and motivated graduates may be recruited to local jobs. In turn, business and industry contribute monies that help equip the colleges that ultimately train their future workforce.

Faculty members typically have at least a Masters degree in their subject. Many more work at least part-time in their fields. As experts they are situated to deliver the most up-to-date information relative to your studies. This is a critical difference between a community college degree and one from a four-year institution: practical versus abstract.

Proactive Job Placement

As part of the career counseling effort, community colleges focus heavily on job placement. Campuses often host regional job and career fairs that provide proactive recruitment. This is different from a four-year program that is focused more exclusively on liberal arts and typically leaves the nuts and bolts of job and career up to the student.

Downsides to the Community College Choice

While I’ve argued the value of a community college and its categorical improvement within the educational system as a whole, there remain downsides.

My choice to attend community college proved a valuable one in my case. The operative phrase here is “in my case.” Your situation must be considered separately. Students able to objectively and candidly consider career goals, academics to date, academic aptitude and practice, as well as the bigger life picture, are best able to weight the pros and cons of community college versus four-year college.

Affordability Alone Is Not Enough

Affordability alone is not a good reason to choose a community college over a four-year college. Academically motivated and well-endowed college students that choose this option solely for its financial breaks, will quickly find that courses move slower, and might be less challenging. Remember community colleges often serve as popular institutions for non-traditional students, either those well past high school or those with familial and job demands that preclude a standard four-year degree program. What serves as the community college systems’ greatest strengths may be a weakness to the wrong student.

Sans Sports and Greek System

If you were counting on the traditional college campus experience then a traditional community college will not deliver. Community colleges, while very well-equipped in some regards, are not designed to package the NCAA football team, the world-class research facility, or the fraternity and sorority row into their educational product.