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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Start at Community College or 4 Year School?

Ron Lieber of the New York Times has written an excellent column on this question: "Bargains on the First 4 Semesters."

Given the dollar amounts involved, the financial planning considerations are important. The parent's retirement plans can be affected by the choice of college along with the student's loan burden.

The article contains excellent recommendations along the lines of checking out the community college, talking to advisors, not taking courses that are too specific at the community college, finding out how many transfer students actually graduate from a 4-year college, etc. To me, anyone who would follow these recommendations is a serious student and would have no problem going the community college route. The worry for many people is the academic environment. I have taught at both the community college level and a 4-year major college. The academic environments are different.

The community college I teach at is nationally recognized as an excellent institution. It has outstanding honors programs from which the transfer rate is exceptionally high and for which the 4-year graduation rate is high. To me what is  lacking, compared to a 4-year university, is the opportunity to join a hard-partying fraternity or sorority and big-time college sports. The education in the honors programs at the community college can be, I believe, superior to the university for the first 2 years, when individualized attention is considered.

Away from the honors courses, community college is a bit different; and the student who desires to successfully transfer to a 4-year school needs to be highly motivated. The non-honors courses are populated by students who decided at the last minute to attend community college (maybe because they couldn't get a job), didn't take a college level track in high school, have no idea of a career path, and very likely are taking remedial math and English courses.

At the university, it is different. Students have prepared for college in high school, have gone through a rigorous process to get accepted, and many have the necessary math and English skills.A higher percentage of the students know why they are there.

One advantage I believe that the community college offers is that the instructors tend to have real-world experience. Many of the instructors are adjuncts who are practicing law, accounting, economics, or nursing in the real world and can provide excellent advice on career paths.

I, for one, felt I was better prepared entering the university 3-credit-hours-short of junior status with an AA degree from community college.

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