An alternative to the traditional four-year college experience is available.
These days, much is said about higher education, with a lot of emphasis on the high cost of tuition and the huge debts that saddle young people. Parents and students want to know if they are getting their money’s worth. While higher education is a compelling issue in our society, the four-year college is not the last word. An alternative is the affordable, versatile, and high-quality two-year community college.
There are at least 941 community colleges in the U.S., with an enrollment of 5.6 million students who can earn a certificate in one year or an associate degree in two years in a wide variety of academic and vocational fields. A general studies curriculum can prepare students for a four-year college diploma. Advantages of a community college include:
• Lower tuition—about one-fifth the cost of a four-year college
• Wide variety of courses that offer entry into real jobs or transfer into a four-year college
• Convenient locations that allow living at home
• Flexible schedules that allow students to work part time
Students at a community college forego the experience of campus life and may attend classes with less involved students but this difference may be a small price. The courses offered at community colleges are varied and comprehensive. For example, a typical institution has courses in more than 100 categories from A (accounting, advanced automation and apprenticeships) to Z (zoology).
There is a diverse range of people who attend community colleges. Students may be fresh out of high school or returning to school at an older age. The older students may be re-entering the workplace or seeking a better job. Some people who are already employed can improve their hiring status by obtaining certificates that are important for advancement.
Many of us remember the community college that we spurned in our youth. This was considered a place for the person who couldn’t make it at a four-year college. At best, it offered a chance to transfer after two years. Not so with the modern community college. There are students of all stripes with a wide variety of talents and ambitions. No single mold fits all.
It is fair to say the community college of today represents a cross-section of America and is more inclusive than other institutions in higher education. According to Grace Chen:
The face of college education in America is changing, especially on community college campuses. While community colleges were once unfairly labeled as “13th grade,” these two-year institutions now provide plentiful opportunities for high-achieving students to challenge themselves. Indeed, a growing number of high school valedictorians and honors students are enrolling in community colleges after high school.
Looking at the future, especially for our youth, community colleges may be one of the most valuable resources we have to ensure the health and prosperity of our country. Let’s all give a cheer and take off our hats to the men and women who staff these institutions—and to the students they serve.
By Savvy Senior
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