When money for college is tight, many families consider community college to be a viable option. But is community college really more advantageous than attending university?
Instead of starting with community college, attending a 4 year college or university right at the beginning offers the greatest probability of college completion, contrary to popular opinion. This is as per the statistical evidence from the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES).
Community colleges are well known for their much lower fees than 4 year colleges or universities. Many states also offer free community college by paying for any remaining tuition that is not covered by federal aid. But this is causing a lot of students to drop out or fail college entirely!
Community College Vs. University: Pros and Cons
Here are some well known differences between community college and a 4 year college or university:
1) Community colleges charge tuition which is about 5 to 10 times lesser than a university. A typical community college yearly tuition is around $3000+ and at a university, tuition charges are around $15,000 to as much as about $30,000 per year at some private colleges.
2) In community colleges, class sizes are relatively small consisting of about 20 to 30 students in a classroom. A similar class at an university would consist of about 200 to 300 students.
3) 4 year colleges have a much wider variety of college courses for many college majors including the not-so-popular ones. In contrast, community colleges have a much smaller set of courses they cater to.
4) Getting a seat in a popular course at community college is very challenging as many of them fill up extremely fast. But this is not the case with the 4 year colleges.
5) In community colleges, students typically live in the nearby locality and commute to college. But most 4 year colleges and universities have dorms and accommodation on campus, along with student accommodations in the college vicinity.
6) The college life and events are much more fun and fast-moving at universities and 4 year college than in community colleges. This is one reason why many students with the financial means or a scholarship prefer to directly attend a 4 year college.
7) The funding for community colleges is very little when compared to the federal aid and other funding for the larger 4 year public universities. Therefore, universities have much larger college campuses with many modern facilities such as up-to-date libraries, huge dining halls and much more.
Community colleges vs. University: Key Pros and Cons
1) Almost all community colleges have open admissions and admit all students who apply as long they have a high school GPA above 2.0 or so. Though this is at times viewed favorably, this leaves students unprepared for college. nor are they asked to complete any college prep courses upon initial enrollment.
That is one of the reasons for the low associate degree completion rates at community colleges which stands at about 20%.
2) In comparison, many 4 yr colleges only admit students who have a GPA which is closer to 3.0 or more. Many also expect a SAT score above 800 for their college admissions.
The bachelors college completion rate at most 4 year colleges and universities stands at about 63%.
Does Community College Prepare You For University?
Most people consider community college a good stepping stone to university as the student gets into the process of learning for a reduced tuition. The extra advantage is that the student can get a job using the associate degree and then transfer the credits to a 4 year college when s/he is ready.
But in my opinion, attending community college is likely a detriment for a 4 year university. The completion rates are so poor at community colleges that it clearly indicates a far bigger problem with the quality of education or teaching methods at community colleges.
Given that community colleges are unable to filter out the good students due to their open admission policies, but there needs to be better effort to prepare students for college learning at the community colleges.
Many non-native, non-english speaking students struggle at community colleges simply because of their lacking english skills. But from what I’ve heard from community college students, there is no special effort taken by the colleges to improve the english communication skills of their students.
So to summarize, in my sincere opinion, community college certainly does not prepare students for university in the majority of cases.
Is Community College Easier?
The class sizes at community colleges is about 10% of university class sizes. So students will get more personalized attention in the community college classrooms. This makes it easier for students to ask questions and to be held accountable, thereby making the learning easier for them.
Despite this, a lot of community college students are unprepared for college learning. So the better prepared the student is, the easier community college will be for him or her.
To make things easier, the student should take one or more college-level courses in high school or take some AP classes and also prepare for and write the SAT. These actions will make it easier for them to transition smoothly from high school to college-level learning.
How Are Community Colleges So Cheap?
Community colleges have smaller campuses and reduced extra-curricular activities. This greatly reduces the maintenance costs of community colleges.
Also, universities have many more tenured professors who not only get a good salary but also additional benefits. In contrast, to further reduce costs, community colleges hire a lot of short-term and hourly teaching staff who do not get any extra perks.
States with Free Community College
Starting with New York and Tennessee in 2015, over 24 US states currently offer free tuition programs. Though most states offer free tuition programs for the associate degree, states such as New York and Washington state offer 4 years to 5 years of free college tuition for a bachelors degree.
These programs are last dollar programs that pay for the remaining tuition costs that are not covered by any federal scholarships or grants.
More information on states offering free community college can be found in this article titled Which are the States That Offer Free College Tuition?.
What Are The Disadvantages of Community College?
In my opinion and from my personal observations, community colleges are somewhat demotivating for students and do not provide the rigor that is required in a typical college education.
Many students join community college right after high school and are usually clueless as to what major to choose. Most students simply think of college as an extension to high school and expect things to be spoon-fed to them. There are also no college-preparatory courses that are conducted by community colleges to accustom students to the college process or to college-level learning.
In addition to this, most teaching staff are commuting professors who are hired temporarily and are paid on an hourly basis. In an effort to reduce costs, any fulltime teaching staff are expected to contribute to other administrative tasks in addition to teaching in a classroom. All of this greatly reduces the quality of teaching at most community colleges all over the United States.
The number of classes conducted for popular topics are limited and many of these classes fill up fast, thereby leaving many motivated students waiting for months for lack of the right class registrations.
Student counseling is also hugely deficient and students are advised on which classes to take by either overworked or inexperienced counselors who occasionally misguide students into taking unwanted or duplicate courses. This unnecessarily prolongs community college for many students who frequently drop out of college in frustration. Cost of community college also shoots up when students take so many extra courses which do not even satisfy their associate degree requirements.
Is It Better To Go To Community College or University?
It is always best for students to directly enroll into a 4 year college or university after their high school. Though most people consider the reduced college tuition to be advantageous at community colleges, simply starting with 4 year college or university can save students several years of time and minimize their frustration.
All of this can make the whole college experience much more successful for students if they simply start with a 4 year bachelors degree at a college or university. This can set the student up for a good career ahead since most well paying jobs require a bachelors degree.
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