I remember the spring of my junior year and fall of my senior year of high school. It was time to choose what college I would attend. I remember sitting in my English class (always second period) and over the course of a few months, various college counselors and former students who went on to a university stopped by the class to recruit for their schools. The former students would talk about their experiences and college counselors would show pretty pictures of college life. Part of those talks was always informing us that we wouldn’t have it so easy at the university like we did in high school. Yes, I said university. During those round of talks, not one community college representative came to visit my school. Maybe it was because community colleges knew that they would get the numbers they needed without recruiting, or maybe going to the high schools wasn’t seen as too important at that time, but I distinctly remember community college never being brought up. Many of my friends who went on to a community college after high school did so to save money on their “starter courses” (aka General Education courses).
Ahhh- saving money. It seemed as though that was the only reason anyone mentioned attending a community college. When I was Dean of Adult Education, we even proposed it to potential students in our office. “Don’t spend thousands of dollars on Gen. Ed. courses. Go to a community college to do those and then transfer here!” While saving money is still a good reason to attend a community college, there are SO many other reasons, and COVID-19 is the perfect opportunity to take advantage of those opportunities.
Because COVID-19 has changed the way fall (and possibly spring) will operate at four-year institutions, many students are changing plans and choosing to attend their local community college this fall. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, “More than 40 percent of minority high-school seniors have said it’s very likely they won’t go to college in the fall, or that it’s too soon to say, compared with 24 percent of white seniors.” For many students, and parents, if one’s looking to save money and take a possibly safer option (i.e. stay close to home and avoid residence halls) a community college is the way to go. However, consider these other reasons to move in that direction.
Branch out: Community colleges have a variety of clubs and organizations just like four-year institutions. They have study abroad options and leadership development opportunities where students can really expand their skills and talents. People assume that one or two years may not be long enough to develop true leadership and civic skills . . . think again. Two years is more than enough time to learn more about yourself, engage with your institution, and take on more active roles in your college and community.
Feel out careers: There’s one area that community colleges have that many four-year institutions don’t: workforce programs. At one time, it was necessary to learn a trade, regardless of whether or not you were getting a degree. Then, that momentum (and the economy plus requirements for careers) waned. Simply getting a degree was all that was needed in order to move forward in life. Now, we’re seeing a shift and to be honest, that shift has been coming. Now, it makes complete sense (and is almost necessary) to learn a trade while getting a higher degree. Many community colleges have students who take classes on both sides of the house (curriculum and workforce). Some community colleges have had successful apprenticeship programs. Some certificate programs can take as long as one year or as short as 13 weeks and they lead to great careers (or side hustles if you’d like).
Get ahead: It is known that students who attend a community college and then transfer to a four-year institution tend to be more persistent and less likely to drop opt of college. AACU reported that “between 88 percent and 75.5 percent of community college transfer students were still enrolled at their new institution after one year (of transferring).” Community college students were also more likely to persist and graduate within or before the standard six years, once entering four-year institutions.
As you’re thinking about what to do this coming fall, don’t rule out the impact and advantage of a community college education. From saving money to getting a head start on your career, now’s the perfect time to rethink your plan, which could leave you in a better position in the future.
Keep moving forward,