Among students and parents, community colleges often receive a bad rap. It’s unfortunate that so many students dismiss community college as an option for starting their postsecondary education. No doubt, part of the reason that community colleges are dismissed by some is their open admissions policy. Since community colleges are not “selective,” there are no bragging rights that come with enrolling there. This is superficial, to say the least. The reality is that starting out at community college is a shrewd investment that can save thousands of dollars in tuition. Student who attend community college significantly reduce their overall cost of tuition and accumulate much lower student debt. This is no secret. About 40 percent of all traditional-aged college students start out at community college!
Let’s objectively review the facts about community colleges. First, what kind of student attends community college? Here’s a few names that you may have heard of: Ross Perot, Tom Hanks, Calvin Klein, and Walt Disney. And these aren’t rare success stories. According to the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, an organization that focuses on community college student development, “the top students at community colleges are among our country’s greatest assets.”
Unfortunately, there are a number of myths circulating about community colleges. It’s time to set the record straight.
Myth #1: Getting a degree at a community college is not worth as much as a degree from a university.
Fact: Students who do well in community colleges are able to transfer to many of the country’s most prestigious colleges and universities. Many community college graduates don’t move on to four-year institutions, instead heading straight into the labor force. Community college graduates account for over 80 percent of law enforcement officers and firefighters and over 62 percent of allied health professionals.
Myth #2: Community college credits don’t transfer to a four-year university.
Fact: The transition to a four-year institution is as seamless as ever. Today, there are many “articulation agreements” between community colleges and universities that specify what classes receive credit for comparable courses at their institution. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, community college students who decide to transfer to a four-year university have a high graduation rate.
Myth #3: Community colleges are primarily for older students who work.
Fact: Community colleges are designed to be flexible with many evening and weekend courses, so they attract students who must work full-time. However, many 18-24- year-old students have full-time or significant part-time jobs, and they are one of the largest groups on community college campuses.
Myth #4: Community colleges offer primarily technical and vocational programs.
Fact: Community colleges offer an exciting variety of courses and majors. Students who start at a community college can take many, if not all, of the prerequisites for their major. After earning their associate degree, they can then transfer to a four-year college and start higher-level classes without skipping a beat. A community college student is viewed no differently at a four-year college than any freshman who started there. Many students who reluctantly started at a community college soon realize its virtues and benefits.
Myth #5: Community college is only for students who were rejected from four-year colleges.
Fact: This is the most pernicious myth of all. In fact, many students who attend community college could have attended a four-year institution, but choose not to. For example, the Honors Program at Brookdale Community College requires a minimum 3.5 GPA, and at least 1100 on the SAT.
Interest in community colleges continues to soar as the cost of a traditional four-year college increases. “NJ STARS,” students who are in the top 15% of their high school graduating class, can attend any community college in New Jersey tuition-free. But it’s more than the financial benefits. Community college class sizes for introductory classes are usually much smaller than in four-year colleges, and community college professors tend to be focused on teaching rather than on research and publishing. As a result, many students who start at a community college find the transition to college life to be easier and less intimidating.