Three Cheers for Community Colleges
Joyce Lain Kennedy
My nephew's college plans are uncertain. His mother says a small scholarship and student loans can pay for a local private college with a $35,000 annual tuition. When I suggested he start out at a two-year public community college ($2,500 yearly tuition) and later transfer to a state university, she dismissed the idea as "graduate high school." Your opinion?
Debt loads for graduating college students are at a record high. The average recent college graduate with debt owes a total of $21,000 -- and the payback figure can be as steep as the high fives. (Debt totals for graduate and professional studies are another jaw-dropping story; research student debt and you'll see what I mean.)
Some observers worry that we've hit the college-price ceiling, as costs appear to be trumping prestige at a time when jobs are scarce. Families look at the price tag of name-brand schools and, in a growing number of cases, decide they can't handle the freight.
Result: Many students are turning to four-year state schools. But the biggest jump in enrollment today is at two-year public community colleges.
Although many community college students attend to learn job skills, another large group attends with the plan to switch later to a four-year college. The general education programs at community colleges are much like freshman and sophomore programs at four-year institutions and are designed to let students earn transferable credits. Two-year public community colleges are way cheaper than four-year institutions.
Educational thrift alone is cause enough to pursue your general education in a public community college. But there are other excellent reasons to choose a community college to launch your educational journey. A few:
Most community colleges don't require standardized testing (SAT and ACT) for admission. If you transfer enough credits to the four-year school, you may never have to take either test. This portal is a second chance for students who got caught up in high school follies but now, older and hopefully wiser, realize they'll never see ivied halls if they don't take education seriously.
Students probably will be able to get more help at a community college because classes are smaller than at a senior institution.
Despite the social networking in this digital age, some l8-year-olds lack the maturity and self-esteem to thrive at a large, impersonal, distant university. They benefit with additional life experience before setting sail.
A bachelor's degree from a four-year college is what goes on a resume, not where the job seeker obtained general education as a freshman and sophomore.
It's cheaper and easier to experiment with classes and change majors at a community college than later at a four-year institution. Many people feel stuck in an upper-division degree program, muddle through, get the no-longer-interesting degree and then don't use it after graduation.
Check with an admissions officer at the
four year-college or university from which you hope to graduate to
confirm that it has an articulation agreement, also known as transfer
agreement, with the community college you plan to attend. For great
detailed advice, read "Community College Transfer Guide" by
More than 300 community colleges now provide
some type of housing for students. And nearly 15 states have granted
community colleges the right to offer bachelor's degrees in certain
vocational fields. Read more about the changing constellation of
community colleges on the
When your nephew's mother is asked where her son is going to college, if she's smart, she'll say with pride, "He plans to save funds for a good, unencumbered start in his adult life without debt, so he is enrolling for his first two years at a marvelous community college. He's a smart kid, don't you agree?"
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Joyce Lain Kennedy
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Three Cheers for Community Colleges | Joyce Lain Kennedy
(c) 2009 Joyce Lain Kennedy