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10 Reasons to Pick a Community College

One of the fastest-growing and most important segments of the American college scene is the community college (in some cases called two-year, junior, or technical colleges). Including such institutions as Miami-Dade College, Broward College, Northern Virginia Community College and the many campuses of the Maricopa Community Colleges (Phoenix), City College of San Francisco, City College of New York, Los Angeles Community College District, and Houston Community College Systems, community colleges enroll a full 44 percent of U.S. undergraduate students. That's 6.7 million credit students, plus 5 million students who are not candidates for a degree, at 1,177 urban, suburban, and rural institutions. To find out what the main differences are between the community college and the four-year liberal arts institution—and whether you should consider applying to a community college—we invited visiting blogger George R. Boggs, former president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges and former president of Palomar College (a two-year college in California), to offer his thoughts. Here's what he has to say:

With family budgets now under the microscope, community colleges have become attractive alternatives to the more expensive four-year colleges and universities. There are many reasons that nearly half of American undergraduates choose to start their higher education in a community college. Here are the top 10:

1. Affordability. Average annual tuition and fees for a full-time student at community colleges average $2,402, versus $6,585 at a public four-year college or university and $25,143 at a private institution. In addition, students can live at home and save on housing and food. To help meet even these reduced expenses, community college students often find they qualify for financial aid while attending. And in many cases, the colleges offer work-study or part-time jobs for students.

2. Convenience. Community colleges offer classes at times and locations that are convenient for students. Classes are often offered at off-campus locations and in the evenings or on weekends in addition to the more traditional day classes. An abundance of online classes provides yet another alternative to make education convenient to those who must fit school around work or family responsibilities. And students can choose to attend on a full-time or a part-time basis.

3. Open access. Community colleges do not have exclusive admissions standards that require high scores on an admissions test or a certain grade-point average from high school. Anyone with a high school diploma or equivalent can enroll. Some students even enroll while in high school to get a head start on college. Starting at a community college gives students a chance to improve a high school record before transferring to a university. However, open access does not mean that students can take any course; students usually are given placement examinations and then advised or placed into developmental courses if they are not up to college-level work.

4. Teaching quality. Community college classes are taught by faculty who care about teaching and student learning, not by teaching assistants. The faculty members are fully committed to teaching and are not pulled away by research interests or the need to publish in order to get tenure. And community colleges are accredited by the same agencies that accredit major universities.

5. Class size. Class sizes at community colleges are much smaller than those found in the freshman and sophomore year at public universities. Most classes have fewer than 35 students and provide more opportunities for students to interact with teachers and other students. Faculty members are accessible and want to help their students be successful.

6. Support services. Community colleges offer a variety of services to help students, and the wise ones learn how valuable these services can be. Services that are often found at community colleges include counseling, advising, tutorials, health care, financial aid, and library services. There are usually computer labs on campus to make it easier for students to complete assignments.

7. Choices. Community colleges offer both vocational programs and academic transfer programs. For example, community colleges prepare most of the nation's registered nurses, police officers, paramedics, firefighters, and advanced-skill technicians. Of course, community colleges also offer courses that transfer into universities and count toward a bachelor's degree. Certificate programs can be completed in a year or less, while associate degree programs take two full years of course work. Of course, it's always important to check with a counselor to be sure that the courses count toward the degree that the student is seeking and that they transfer to the university program the student has identified.

8. Diversity. Community colleges serve the most diverse group of students in higher education. Students differ by age, ethnicity, degree of disability, socioeconomic status, and in many other ways. International students add yet another perspective. The opportunity to interact with and to learn from other students from many different backgrounds and with a variety of life experiences is another big advantage of starting at a community college.

9. Access to modern technology. Because of their strong partnerships with business and industry, community colleges often have cutting-edge equipment that is used by students in the classroom. Employers want job candidates who have experience with the equipment being used by industry, including the most modern computers and scientific instruments. Since community colleges offer classes only at the freshman and sophomore levels, the use of the best equipment isn't reserved for juniors, seniors, and graduate students.

10. Good company. In case a student feels discouraged by the prospect of attending a local community college rather than his or her first-choice university, here are some people who are glad that they started in a community college: J. Craig Venter, the person who mapped the human genome; Richard Carmona, former U.S. surgeon general; Eileen Collins, the first NASA female space shuttle commander; Nick Nolte, actor; Harry Reid, Senate majority leader; and Nolan Ryan, retired baseball pitcher. Several Nobel laureates, state governors, members of Congress, famous sports figures, famous actors, and distinguished business executives got their start in community colleges, but so have many thousands of nurses, skilled technicians, artists, police officers, firefighters, and EMTs.

For more info about community colleges, visit the American Association of Community Colleges.