Community College Matters

With the price of tuition continually increasing, community college makes more sense every year.

By Amna Ijaz, Collin College

A four-year university is the dream for most, if not all students, as they are told to work hard at school so they can achieve the best grades and get into the best universities.

But, what if a student doesn’t want to jump right into a $40,000-a-year college when they don’t know what they want to do? As a 17- or 18-year-old student, you are expected to know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life, and decide where to spend upwards of $100,000 in student loans that you’ll use most of your life trying to repay. What if that’s not what you want right now? What if you need more time, but don’t want to waste time either? If you’re worried about similar concerns, and understandably so, then community college may be right for you.

Throughout most students’ high school careers, the term “good education” is hardly ever associated with community colleges. Students are brought up to think a certain way about higher education, that attending four-year universities is the straight path to success; any route deviating from the norm will only lead to failure and misfortune.

Why Community College Keeps Sounding Better and Better

Student in a CA community college (Image via LA Times)

In reality, the stigma around community colleges is just a stigma and nothing more. Local campuses offer the same level of education a four-year university does. They may not carry the prestige and honor a hundred-year-old university such as Harvard or Yale might, but in terms of quality, few valid arguments can be made against them.

Students at community colleges tend to perform much better than students starting out at four-year universities. According to a Columbia University Research study done by Calcagno Bailey on the “Effects of Institutional Factors on the Success of Community College Students,” compared with students at small colleges, large classroom sizes were negatively correlated with student success rates. Unlike four-year institutions, at community colleges, you receive a more personalized approach to learning, which helps students ease into their new academic environment. With large, four-year universities, students are thrown into the deep end and expected to know how to swim.

A major factor that more students should be made aware of when it comes to community college is cost. In the real world, the university you attend is not everything. Your ability to excel in a particular field, on the other hand, and your ability to survive without drowning in student debt, play crucial roles in your ability to thrive in the real world. Community colleges offer the same level of educational quality, but in more reasonable doses. They have the same classes and curriculum, but at a cheaper cost.

So how come so many students are willing to give away thousands of dollars? Perhaps so their degree has the name of a four-year university on it, or maybe so that they can have the “traditional college experience” that many envision in high school. However, all that can still be achieved by going to a community college.

Most students attending community college do so for only two years before transferring to a four-year university. In the end, when they get their degree, it’s not going to say “spent only two years at Harvard,” it will say they graduated from Harvard (or whatever it says on degrees).

If you are embarrassed to admit your community-college history to future employers or friends, don’t worry, there won’t be a trace of it on your public record.

With that said, there is nothing to be embarrassed about. Attending a community college means you are making a smart and informed decision for your future. It makes you wise if anything, because you’re saving thousands of dollars for the first two years to enroll in the same core classes you would’ve at a four-year institution. Students should be proud of their choice.

In addition to the savings, students-to-be should also consider the wealth of resources that the teaching staff and professors can provide at a community college. At a four-year university, you would be lucky if the professor knows you exist. In fact, sometimes you would be lucky to see an actual professor within your first two years, since TA’s do most of the teaching of core classes.

You’re not paying thousands of dollars to be taught by a clueless graduate student; you pay so you can be taught by the best.

On the other hand, at a community college, you’re taught directly by your highly qualified and experienced professors. Since the classroom sizes are never larger than twenty-five to thirty students, you’ll be able to build a great rapport with your professors. A study published in the Journal of College Student Development found that, in regard to the impact it has on their freshmen students, four-year universities are actually trying to mimic the interpersonal environments of community colleges, because they lead to a higher percentage of degree attainment and overall academic success.

Community colleges must be doing something right if four-year colleges, which ask you for thousands of dollars a year, need guidance for their classroom environments.

Four-year universities are not all bad; they often have outstanding faculty members who represent the best in their field. However, you don’t typically receive exposure to those kinds of professors until you are in your junior or senior year, taking courses directly related to your major.

Therefore, whether it’s at a four-year university or a community college, why does it matter who teaches you college algebra? The answer is, maybe it doesn’t so much. The final two years hold the most weight, and most community colleges don’t offer Bachelor Degrees anyway, so transferring is typically the outcome. Why not save a couple hundred thousand and spare your parents the heart attack? If you’re paying your tuition, you could save yourself from decades of debt and misery. Sounds dramatic, but it is the reality of millions of students across the country.

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