In Praise of the Community College

In Praise of the Community College

by Caroline Reeder

If you are thinking of returning to school, a community college may be just the place for you. Beginning college later in life can be overwhelming, especially at a large university. The community college offers a more personalized college experience with smaller classes and professors who often know you by name. No longer the “college of last resort,” community colleges offer an academically rigorous curriculum that prepares you for continued studies at a four-year university or entering the workforce.

Advantages of Community Colleges

Many successful people got their start at community colleges, including celebrities like actor Tom Hanks and comedian Billy Crystal. Even some of your
professors may be proud community college graduates. Community colleges have several advantages over four-year universities, especially for returning or older-than-average students. These include:

An Open Door Policy. Community colleges are very forgiving. Regardless of your previous school performance, most community colleges will admit you as long as you have a high school diploma or GED. Once you get there, it is entirely up to you to do the work required to remain a student in good standing. Graduation from a community college also opens the door to admission at most state universities. Many community colleges and universities have “articulation agreements” through which your admission and ability to transfer credits are almost guaranteed.

Convenience. Community colleges are attended by people of very diverse backgrounds and have an especially high concentration of working adults. Because of this, they offer classes during a variety of times including early morning, late afternoon, evenings and weekends. No matter what your job situation is, you should be able to find classes that accommodate your schedule and still allow you to lead a relatively normal life.

Class Size. Community colleges generally have smaller class sizes than universities, which frequently offer freshman and sophomore classes in massive auditoriums. Rather than being a speck in a sea of faces or a random name on a roster, your professor may know you by name. You will also have a much easier time getting to know your classmates. You may not have returned to college for the camaraderie but a smile from a classmate when you’re having a tough time can really help.

Cost. Tuition at community colleges is considerably less than tuition at four-year universities. For the cost of taking one class at a university, you can take an average of three classes at a community college. Additionally, you may qualify for financial aid, student loans or scholarships. If you are working toward a bachelor’s degree, you can save a considerable amount of money by completing your first two years of coursework at a community college.

Success. Celebrities aren’t the only successful people to have gotten their start at community colleges. Notable Alumni include leaders in business, education, government, politics, sports, the arts, and even space exploration, are community college graduates. In Florida, almost 75 percent of community college graduates continue their education at four-year institutions.

Getting the Most Out of Community College

Like many things in life, college is what you make of it. You are at an advantage because you have chosen to enroll in college. Attending college of your own volition rather than by obligation can make a huge difference in your level of satisfaction. College will be challenging at times but you have

the power to create an enjoyable, rewarding and successful experience. Here are a few tips that will help you on your journey:

Take Your Time. After delaying your dream for so many years, you might be anxious to get to the finish line. You may decide to take a full course load
while working full-time and raising a family. While this is admirable, you could be setting yourself up for failure. Instead of trying to be superwoman/man, start out by taking one or two classes a semester. This will help you gauge how much of a course load you can handle in conjunction with work and family responsibilities.

Save Stubborn Subjects for Summer. Aside from our right-brain or left-brain tendencies, most of us have certain subjects that are either easy to grasp or
take every ounce of our mental acumen to master. For many, math and statistics present a major hurdle to academic success while others struggle with writing or history. A good way to tackle a challenging class is to take it during the summer semester. Summer classes condense a four month semester into a few weeks by holding class meetings every weekday. By their nature, these classes force you to remain constantly focused on the subject. Yes, they can be painful at times, but the pain will be short lived.

Join the Club. Adding another activity to your already packed schedule may be the last thing you want to do, but student clubs can be very beneficial to your college experience. Not going to college straight out of high school probably means that you missed out on the full campus experience.. Campus clubs are a wonderful substitute and you don’t have to endure those nasty hazing rituals to participate. Pick a club that matches your interests—you don’t have to be a major in the subject, just interested. You also may be eligible for an honor society such as Phi Theta Kappa. Be a joiner even if it is for just an hour a week. You will meet amazing people, some of them just like you!

Get Help. When you are caught up in studying for tests and writing term papers, it is easy to forget that the people around you want you to succeed. It may be hard to believe but most professors do not relish giving their students D’s and F’s. Students who earn good grades in their classes are a testament to a professor’s teaching ability. If you’re having a hard time in class, schedule a visit with your professor for some guidance in improving your grades or form a study group with classmates. People are there to help, you just have to ask.

Take Time Out. Juggling the responsibilities of college can be difficult. You may find yourself so focused on working toward your goal of graduation that you forget to take time to relax and recuperate. Remember to give your brain a rest once in a while. Putter in the garden, go for a walk, listen to music, or attend a campus production starring your fellow students. The algebra homework will be waiting when you get back and will be much easier totackle after some down time.

Only the Beginning

For many, community college is the first step in successful educational career. If you have the drive and are committed to working hard, the odds are that you will do well. Most community college students go on to universities to earn their bachelor’s degree. Some even continue on to graduate school. Dr. Jose E. Alvarez, an associate professor of history at the University of Houston-Downtown in Houston, Texas, is one such success story.

After going through the motions in high school, Alvarez thrived at Miami-Dade Community College in Miami, Florida, where he earned an associate in arts degree in history. “I was transformed by community college. The classes were interesting, the professors were great and I wanted to be there. It was truly a life altering experience for me,” said Alvarez. From Miami-Dade he went on to earn his Master’s and Doctoral degrees in history and today teaches many returning students. “I have great admiration for my students. Most of them work full-time and have families but they recognize how important getting an education is,” he said.

You may not end up as famous as Tom Hanks or in front of a classroom like Dr. Alvarez after graduating, but whatever your dream is you have the means to fulfill it. Your time and effort will pay off. Let community college start you on your way.

Community College Fast Facts

– It is often assumed that courses at a community college are easier than those at a four-year school. The reverse is often true: courses at community colleges can be more challenging.
– 44 percent of all undergraduates in the United States attend a community college.
– Women comprise 58 percent of the community college population (42 percent are men).
– The average age of a community college student is 29.
– There are 1,132 public and independent community colleges in the United States.
– Tuition at a community college averages $1,518 annually.
– The average expected lifetime earnings for a graduate with an associate’s degree is over $1 million, approximately $250,000 more than a high school graduate.
– 63 percent of students attend community college part time; 37 percent full time.
– 95 percent of businesses that use them recommend community college workforce education and training programs.
Source: American Association of Community Colleges

Celebrities Who Attended Community College

Billy Crystal
Nassau Community College, New York
Clint Eastwood
Los Angeles Community College, California
Nick Nolte
Phoenix College
Tom Hanks
Chabot College, California
Joan Lunden
American River College, California
Jackie Robinson
Pasadena Community College, California
Source: American Association of Community Colleges

Caroline Reeder is a fund development officer for a public library system and writer. While she holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, she is proudest of her Associate in Arts degree from Miami-Dade Community College. She lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and 21 year old cat, Justin.