The terrifying cost of college is known to anyone who has not been in a deep freeze for decades. Young people face huge tuitions, and find themselves, after graduation, carrying immense debt loads, or giving up their ambitions.
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The First Lady of the United States has undertaken a personal campaign to urge more young people from modest circumstances to aim for college. Her message? Her family struggled to afford her education at a top prestige institution. She wants kids to at least try. Community college can be a big part of the solution.
One of the worst impacts of the meteoric tuition increases is the immense debt burden that recent graduates must bear, even if they did not complete their degree. In the worst cases, a student ends up with crushing debt but without the qualifying credentials that could secure them a high-paying job to pay off their obligations. Such outcomes chill interest in less remunerative but important fields of study, or attending college at all.
Accredited community colleges, in many parts of the country, solve many of these problems, and at bargain rates. They offer lower tuition, degree and certificate programs unavailable elsewhere, savings on housing, and help for those whose high school experience was deficient. Community colleges can launch a student onwards academically and professionally.
The tuition factor is a no-brainer. The cost of a community college can be half the cost of a four-year institution.
Access is another advantage. Nearly every community has one, some of them superb. Although some lack twining ivy and plush lawns, this is changing in some areas. Many community colleges have invested heavily in ritzier facilities.
Community colleges are more likely to be oriented towards overcoming obstacles, whether for adult learners who have jobs and families, or for younger students who must work part-time. This is most definitely not the case in four-year institutions, where students must often jump through hoops like circus poodles.
Class times, registration schedules, access to instructors, and the hours of administrative offices, are more often geared towards part-time and working students in two colleges. These places know their market, and make themselves available when their students are likely to be freer to get stuff done, whether by phone or by visiting an office.
Community colleges provide support to students whose preparation was less than ideal. If the student never got the memo about studying hard and getting good grades, the option of attending a four-year institution may not be feasible. The community college alternative gives a student a chance to redeem themselves.
The strategy should be to work hard, get fabulous grades, and demonstrate competence, if not brilliance. Aim for election to the two-year college equivalent of Phi Beta Kappa, called Phi Theta Kappa. Once a track-record of achievement is solidly in place, apply to another college, and finish in style if desired. The price tag will be much lower than spending all four years at a university.
Two-year colleges expect, routinely, to provide some measure of remedial help for students with deficits in their reading or math skills. If there are learning differences, or the after-effects of a lousy high school, these institutions offer catch-up classes, tutoring, learning communities, and practical experiences.
For students whose English skills are not what they wish, a stint at community college can be a useful period of practicing and acquiring confidence with the language. There may even be classes in ESL.
The quality of teaching at community colleges can be excellent. It is no secret that we produce more PhDs than we have fully tenured professorships in four-year colleges to accommodate them. Where do all those highly educated and motivated folks end up? Some of them are in the ranks of community college faculty. Of course there will be stinkers, but they crop up everywhere.
Community colleges are unabashedly job oriented. They prepare students for work, and often offer training programs that will virtually guarantee a position, and that are available nowhere else. Examples abound. Specialties such as diagnostic medical imaging, computer assisted design, facility management, and computer forensics are good bases for a legitimate and rewarding career.
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Some schools offer internships or clinical placements in local health care institutions, service learning, and study abroad. Students can walk out with these credentials and actually find a job. This is the most powerful way to address student debt.
For some families, the notion of sending a kid miles or states away is simply not acceptable, for cultural, religious, or emotional reasons. Community college allows a student to live at home and, if needed, help with caregiving, or the family business.
Although the size of some of these institutions can make finding a group of friends a challenge, it is worth persisting. Community colleges, consisting largely of commuters, can lack the clubs and extracurricular activities that make four-year colleges fun. So…start an activity or club or try for an honors program.
Don’t rule out community colleges – they have much to offer, at attractive prices.