The Community College system in the United States is simply the perfect college option for many of our high school graduates in my opinion.
Here are some of my reasons for this statement:
- Close to home.
- Less expensive.
- Small classes.
Let's start with my first reason: Close to home. I went to a college that had the initials TSC. (This college has since been renamed.) Among the students at this college, we referred to "TSC" as meaning "The Suitcase College" because just about everyone went home on the weekends. I remember thinking at the time that high school students are always complaining about "living under the rules of their parents". They want to be on their own; they want their freedom. And, so, I thought that these people were hypocrites when, given the opportunity, would rush back home at every chance they got to do so.
Of course, it probably isn't fair to categorize young people this way. It is more likely that they rushed back home to be with their friends. It is also likely that they really didn't hate their parents as much as they said. According to the Higher Education Research Institute (and referenced here), 53% of college students attend a school within 100 miles of their home and 90% within 500 miles. This tells me that most students want to attend college close (or relatively close) to their home. Surely lower in-state tuition is part of the reason, but I think another reason is that newly graduated high school students are not completely ready to break all ties with their hometown by attending a college that is very far away.
Community colleges provide the college experience with college courses and college teachers while still remaining close (sometimes very close) to home. Students don't have to adjust to a new environment--perhaps with new foods and new expressions and maybe new fashions and (perhaps) a new climate--in addition to the (sometimes shocking) new experience of college-level course work. Change is hard and a lot of change at once can be too hard for some students to endure. The closeness of community colleges allows students to be close to friends and family and familiar settings, while they adjust to some aspects of college life.
Reason number two: Less Expensive. Full discloser; I am the cheapest cheapskate you will ever meet. If I see something for free, I take two. So my views of cost are probably skewed when compared to those of normal people. However, I would think that lots of middle-class, working class, and (certainly) poor people are interested in finding good deals wherever they can be found. And when you are talking about cost, Community Colleges are a very good deal.
Tuition costs at community colleges are not merely "less" than those of public and private four-year schools; they are dramatically less--50% less; maybe even 75% less. And students take the same courses and earn the same credit that they would at the much more expensive four-year schools. To put a dollar figure to it, according to the College Board (reference found here) the average cost of tuition and fees at a two-year school is only $3,131 which is just over one-third (60+% savings) of the cost for a year at a four-year institution.
And here is a sobering statistic that we don't like to talk about, but when it comes to cost this is important. Only slightly more than 50% of students who enter college eventually earn a degree. Most people know someone who began college and then left college after one semester or after one year. Imagine paying $25,000. or $35,000. and then your child drops out of college. Isn't it better to risk only $3,131 to see if your child is college-ready? For thirty thousand dollars you could have bought your child a car and rent for a year--during which time he/she could have been looking for job.
Check out this recent study on the issue of college dropouts.
Finally my third reason: Small classes.
I have to be honest here; I'm not completely sure that community colleges can promise small classes or smaller classes that at four-year colleges. I did find this reference and this one that mention community colleges having smaller classes. But, to be fair, these references don't cite research. I know that people often talk about large lecture halls at big, four-year colleges. If it is true, then the "large lecture hall" is (yet) another major transition that students need to make when they begin college. Most high schools keep classes to 30 students or less; maybe 35 or 40 would be the biggest class that any high school student would typically experience.
Smaller classes don't make students smarter, but they do open the possibility that the teacher would have better relationships with his/her students. When students and teachers get to know each other, than students tend to do better in classes. This is the factor that helps small class sizes to lead to better academic performance by students.
The transition to college is a major life transition for 17 and 18 year old people. Many new things are happening all at once. A typical student might be able to handle some of these changes, but still struggle to handle all of these changes.
Community Colleges help students to manage these multiple changes by being close to home, having much lower costs, and having small classes (similar to high school classes). They also have all sorts of academic supports to help students to succeed. Community Colleges are a great deal. I think everyone interested in earning a BA or MA should consider Community College as a starting point.