However, it is nothing to scoff at, and it certainly shouldn’t be removed from consideration for any prospective college student.
The Community College Stigma
However, enrollment at community colleges has been trending downward for some time.
Some say it is due to a healthy economy and people are able to spend more money. Others say it is due to large public misconceptions of the value of community college.
For instance, one of the largest misconceptions about community college students is that they are unmotivated or aren’t able to earn a four-year degree.
Of first-time college students who enrolled in Fall 2011 (that’s me!), nearly 38% of those students earned a credential from a two or four-year institution within six years.
This paints the picture that not only are community college students capable, but they also are focused on the goal of finishing a four-year degree in a timely manner.
For a great example of this, check out the Netflix series Last Chance U.
It will definitely put the ambition of community college students into perspective.
Growing up in Southern California, many high school graduates attend community college simply to save money.
However, I would argue that is only one of many benefits.
Benefits of Attending a Community College First
Cost of Tuition
It isn’t a secret that college is expensive. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it will get any cheaper in the near future.
One way to avoid this trend is to attend community college. In fact, some states are now writing legislation to make community college free!
If you live in a state where you do need to pay, it is much more cost-efficient than attending a four-year school.
The average yearly tuition for community college is roughly $3,500 per year while the average yearly tuition for four-year college is $9,500 per year.
That is a significant jump in price.
The larger costs of college also including room and board, meal plans, and other ancillary costs. With community college, you can avoid many of those costs.
The most ironic part about the price difference is you are typically are receiving the same product, just packaged differently.
My community college experience was exactly that.
Santa Monica College is located on the west side of Los Angeles, within 25 miles of USC, UCLA, and other prestigious four-year schools.
Many of my professors would teach at a four-year school in the morning and then a two-year later in the day – or vice versa.
Their curriculums and classes are nearly identical for a fraction of the cost.
For example, a three unit Biology course at a four-year school could cost upwards of several thousands of dollars.
Right now, that same course Santa Monica College would cost roughly $250.
These courses are nearly exactly the same, same credit is given upon completing, and is incredibly different in price.
If you multiply the price difference across a full list of courses working towards a degree, the difference in price is staggering.
Along with this, at many four-year colleges and universities, you aren’t able to take courses related to your major until your junior year!
While I was in junior college, I was able to take courses related to my major in my first semester of my freshman year.
Not only can the reduced cost prove to be a large advantage, so can the overall coursework and rigor of being in college.
Easier Transition From High School
Many high school students have trouble adjusting to the college lifestyle and pace.
Living away from home for the first time on a large campus with a large student body proves to be too much sometimes.
In all likelihood, had I left home for my freshman year, I would have likely been part of that 30%.
Community college allows for a softer transition from high school to college.
You typically stay home or in an area you are familiar with, allowing you to stay near friends and family. Your support system isn’t a long drive or flight away.
The best part, though, is while attending community college, you will naturally become more self-reliant and self-sufficient.
For example, you will probably be on a different schedule than the other people living in your home. This means you might need to cook for yourself or do your own laundry.
Also, you will most likely have a part-time or full-time job. This will help teach you much-needed money management skills. Lastly, you will no longer have regimented “hang out” time with friends (i.e. scheduled lunch time in high school); you’ll have to make time to see them.
If you are attending school full-time, involved in campus activities, and have a job, your free time becomes much more scarce. Fortunately, you will experience these transitions while remaining in a familiar environment.
That can make a world of difference for some people.
For me, I gained an incredible amount of autonomy in community college.
I struggled heavily in high school because of how rigid it was and the lack of creativity.
Once I was in community college, I had more power over my schedule and what I did with my time.
Once that switch was made, my grades improved and I was able to enjoy school.
Less Stressful Application Process
For high school juniors, seniors, and parents, college application season is incredibly stressful.
From worrying about scoring high enough on the SAT/ACT to having the perfect college essay to simply choosing where to apply, there’s a lot to consider.
And for parents, it can be incredibly expensive just funding the application process.
When I was a senior in high school, I witnessed the stress and disappointment from many of my friends when they were rejected from certain schools.
It’s hard for kids that young to face that kind of rejection.
Community college doesn’t omit that stress, it simply prolongs it. But in a good way.
You still have to apply and be accepted, but you won’t need to stress about your SAT or ACT score.
Also, good grades in community college might offset any poor grades you might have gotten in high school.
You’ll be more mature and capable of handling rejection, as well as make more informed, mature decisions regarding a major.
It is a bit absurd to expect 17 or 18 year olds to make a life decision like that.
In my experience, I changed as a person from the time I started community college to the time I entered Arizona State University.
In those two years, I gained a better understanding of how college worked and did a bit of much-needed growing.
I experienced some hardships and trials while attending community college that could have been too difficult to handle if I had attended school far from home.
Along with this, I was able to gain more work experience to further my maturation.
I was able to handle these different obstacles and growing pains while being in a familiar environment. By the time I moved out and transferred to ASU, I was capable of handling the challenges of living on my own.
Community college provides a very unique value proposition to prospective college students. You can explore your degree at a low cost and with smoother transition from high school than a four-year school.
Unfortunately, the stigmas that surround community college still linger among high school students. In a time of hyper-competitiveness to get into the “best” college, the most practical options unfortunately go overlooked.
However, there is one point to be made that is indisputable. My degree doesn’t say “Santa Monica College + Arizona State University.”
It only says ASU.
It’s not how you start the race, but how you finish.
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