There are many problems community college students in the US face that prevent them from successfully completing their associate degree. To understand more about this and to figure out how to overcome these issues, I spoke with several community college students in Southern California.
Students do not have enough money to pay for college and financial aid is not sufficient to cover the entire cost of college. Also, they do not receive proper guidance on their major or on which courses to take. Most students have an excess of General Ed credits but not enough for completing their degree.
In addition to these top issues with community colleges, students find it extremely difficult when moving from a 2yr college to a 4 yr college or university for their bachelors degree. Students often report that their curriculum in community college and that followed in other university systems are diagonally opposite and its very hard to find a point where they meet.
TOP COMMUNITY COLLEGE STUDENT PROBLEMS
Here are the top problems college students face that prevent degree completion:
1) The biggest problem is not having enough money for attending college. Many full time students receive financial aid which covers their college tuition but there is no money left for living expenses.
2) Part time college students are able to work but the financial aid is drastically reduced for part time students. To avoid student loans, students take up part time work which further reduces their productive study time.
3) Next, college takes too long to complete though many students have more college credits than the 60 or so required for an associate degree.
In some cases, I’ve found students who had as many as 90 to 140 community college credits but who still had not met all the degree requirements for an associate degree.
Academic advising is generally inefficient and students are encouraged into taking too many General Ed courses on topics that do not meet all their major-related degree requirements.
4) There is district-level budget cutting for community colleges and many pay cuts for teachers. This has resulted in many part time teachers and less full time ones.
In an effort to balance the college budget and to get more of the student’s financial aid monies, it appears the student advisors are compelled to encourage students to take more of the General Ed courses in excess.
5) In case of excess General Ed credits, NO information is provided by the student advisors on ALTERNATE degree majors say in liberal arts, for which the student has already met all the degree requirements, for faster graduation.
6) Students are offered NO guidance on how to choose a good college major to fit their individual needs. Instead, most students end up experimenting with multiple courses and topics to figure out what major they should choose.
There is also a strong push for students to study in Health Sciences or in Science & Technology (STEM) fields.
7) Transferring credits from another state, or from one university system to another is extremely difficult. Therefore, students end up repeating some courses everytime they change or restart college. This further delays graduation and increases their financial burden.
8) Students are NOT given proper guidance on courses to take in community college for transferring to university for the bachelors degree. Universities such as CSU (California State University) and UC (University of California) have different degree requirements and the student’s study plans in community college are frequently changed to match the varying requirements.
9) Some of the good courses fill up quickly and students end up having to wait due to class scheduling difficulties. This again causes a delay in degree completion.
10) There are many student resources such as student healthcare coverage, textbook rentals in the college library and other college campus facilities that students are unaware of. This makes their student life much more difficult and indirectly causes more delays in graduating college.
SOLVING THE COLLEGE FINANCIAL AID PROBLEM
Many full time students have financial aid that covers their tuition expenses, but unless they have some form of family support at home, they struggle with meeting their living expenses on their own. This problem gets even more critical for single moms or single parents who have no family supporting them, but still have kids whom they are responsible for.
About 50% of the community college students I spoke with were over the age of 30, and about 50% of those over 30 yrs had kids.
There is simply no way for parents with kids to study full time in college without any form of financial support for their family.
So there are a few ways to resolve this problem for full time college students:
- Be sure to stay close to your parents or family for college, or have them help out with paying your room & board and food expenses. Also, in-state students get better financial aid and lower tuition fees, so this is a win-win in multiple ways if you stay close to family.
- If you are an older student or do not have any financial support from family, consider enrolling into a degree completion college and transfer out all your existing college credits to this new program. There are many degree completion colleges in various US states so you are highly likely to find one in the US state you live in.
Here are additional benefits of degree completion colleges:
- At the degree completion colleges, there are no specific residency requirements, so the same financial aid is given to all students equally, irrespective of whether students study full time or part time.
- Also, the tuition fees are lower and there are many free online courses and low cost exams students can take at the degree completion colleges for earning college credits. This is suitable even for older students with kids, as you can work part time and take free or low cost online courses in your spare time, and still get financial aid to meet your college or living expenses.
- If you are an international student, there are lesser financial aid opportunities at the degree completion colleges, but depending on where you live, your living expenses might be much lower. In any case, the fees at these amazing colleges as so low that any US or international student can easily afford to complete their US college degree here.
FIXING THE ISSUE OF EXCESS COLLEGE CREDITS
The best way to avoid duplicate credits is for you to take ownership of your degree progress. Most community colleges have a college catalog that lists all the college courses, degree majors and general education requirements for graduation. So the first thing you need to do is to go to your college programs office and ask for a physical copy of this catalog, or at least the current year’s digital copy from the website.
You can later consult with the college student advisors, but before meeting anyone, you need to do the following:
1) Thoroughly review your college catalog and see what subjects you need to cover for the general education requirements. Then note these down.
2) Next, find courses that you can take to meet each of the General Ed credit requirements and try to schedule some of them.
3) If you already know what major you want to take, find out the credit requirements for your major. Ask the student office for additional catalogs specific to your degree major.
4) Find courses you need to take for your major and find out how many of your General Ed courses you need to complete before you can take courses specific to your major.
5) Now contact your student counselor and ask them additional questions about the courses, the cost and so on.
6) Keep a constant track of which courses you have completed and create a spreadsheet which will list your courses completed, which credit requirements they meet, and the final score or grades in each course.
7) Be sure to contact the student office as soon as you’ve completed your General Ed requirements so you can quickly take courses for your major.
8) Keep a close watch on your courses completed spreadsheet so you can contact your student office promptly when you think you have completed all the required courses so you can apply for graduation.
FINDING THE RIGHT COLLEGE MAJOR
Some people know exactly what major they want to do their college degree on. Some others are not sure. Still others think they know what major to choose but would like to be absolutely sure before they decide.
Checkout this article on How To Go About Choosing College Major for more information. Also ask your college student office for help deciding on a major. Most colleges have ample resources on choosing a college major. Sites such as collegeboard.org also have information to assist students with choosing a degree major.
In case you want the option of changing you college major, ask your student office at college on this. This post has more information on switching your college major by transferring to a degree completion college.
EARNING TRANSFER CREDITS
Many community college students have trouble getting their previous college courses to transfer to their current college degree. If you continue to have trouble with this, try to speak to someone higher up in your college such as the dean or president, or request the dean’s secretary for a special meeting.
From what I gathered in my student interviews, community college students in STEM majors found it comparatively easier getting their credits to transfer in for a small fee. But there is no logical reason for students in liberal arts or other non-STEM majors to not similarly have their credits transferred.
Another option to speed up your credits transfer at your community college is as follows:
- Contact a degree completion college such as Charter Oak, Thomas Edison or Excelsior college and apply for a Credit Evaluation Report
- This report will list all your accredited transfer credits from the college
- In this case, you don’t have to necessarily enroll into the degree completion college
- Once you get this credit evaluation report, simply submit this report to your student office at your community college
- In most likelihood, this will accelerate the credits transfer process at your community college
- There is a small fee for ordering this report and you will be asked by the degree completion college to submit your course transcripts and course description catalogs for this evaluation
If you are still unable to get the credits transferred to your community college, consider transferring and enrolling directly into a degree completion college. At the degree completion colleges, an unlimited number of accredited course credits in the US, or even foreign course credits can be easily transferred at the time of enrollment free of charge.
GETTING READY FOR UNIVERSITY
Most community colleges have articulation agreements with universities in the state for students to transfer into for their bachelors degree after completing their associate degree.
So once you start community college, check directly with both your student office and also a few universities in the state for information on their transfer requirements.
Many students make the mistake of simply relying on their community college student advisors for this information which can sometimes lead to a lot of confusion. It’s best for you to stay on top of your degree progress, so take it upon yourself to contact the universities and then find a nice way to have that blend in with your study plans at your community college.
There are also many 4 yr degree completion programs in many US states which make it easy and free to transfer in all of the student’s accredited college-level learning. One such college in California is Dominican University of California which is a transfer-friendly college and students can even get credits for work experience here.
BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER IN COLLEGE
Though there are many challenges students face in community colleges, they can be more quickly overcome by being proactive and by taking ownership of your college roadmap. Talk to the college staff, meet with the student government, seek out student mentors, and get all your questions answered.
If you are having trouble signing up for a class that quickly fills up, ask the student office if you can take a similar course in a nearby community college in the same district. Meet the course teachers within your college and ask if they can help you enroll into the next scheduled class. Be proactive and there will definitely be better results.
Make sure to use all the facilities your campus offers as follows:
- Visit the college library for additional textbooks on rent
- Ask for discounted meal plans
- Find out about health coverage plans
- Ask campus police for help escorting you to your late evening or late night classes
These additional benefits will smoothen your college ride and help you to more quickly reach graduation.
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