Families now paying for virtual college at private schools aren’t getting a tuition break. It’s one of the many reasons that it may be time to look into community colleges. After all, with our new first lady being a long time champion of them and professor at them, they will receive more financial and policy support and input than ever.
We spoke to American Association of Community Colleges spokesperson Martha Parham to get more information on how community colleges support students.
1. Leadership opportunities
It’s a massive myth that community colleges are devoid of advanced leadership opportunities. “The reputation of community colleges is you go to class, and then you go home,” says Parham. It’s not the case. Community colleges often offer extensive opportunities for career exploration, mentoring, and leadership in student government.
“I don’t think I would have ever run for office if Kingsborough College didn’t provide leadership opportunities,” says Steven Patzer, NYC city council candidate. “While a student government president, I lobbied in Albany on immigration issues and helped allocate how student activities fees were spent.”
Just a few of the people Parham mentioned that who got their start at community colleges are Celebrity Chef Guy Fieri, former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, actor Morgan Freeman, author Amy Tan, and Star Wars creator George Lucas.
2. Programs for books, tuition, and mentoring
One of the current movements across the country is to recreate programs such as ASAP in New York across the country. Patzer benefited from the program.
He and other ASAP students received metrocards for public transit, money for textbooks, and mentoring. The program’s participants have a graduation rate from a two-year degree program of over 60 percent. Some are offered scholarships at 4-year schools up to Ivy League schools. Patzer finished his 4-year degree in public affairs at Baruch College debt free.
3. Transfer agreements.
Community colleges may have articulation agreements with top schools where someone completes their first two years at a community college with a specified GPA, and they could get automatic admission. Students both save money and get a degree from their dream school at a dream cost.
Other schools have transfer agreements to accept credit towards their degree programs if the student is accepted. Thus, it’s important to talk to the transfer office about what agreements they have before choosing a community college.
4. Public / Private Partnerships
Community colleges are known for basing a portion of both credit and workforce programs on the hiring needs of local businesses and business boards. When considering a community college, don’t forget to ask them how their courses are aligning with the hiring needs of the community.
Short-term programs may help with finding a job now before longer termed pursuits. For instance, some restaurant and service industry jobs that may have been done part-time could take a while to come back. Your student could train for welding, a short-term medical program, or entrepreneurial options that could assist them with having part-time work throughout their education.
If your student finds a prospective long-term career path because of this suggestion, also ask if the field would benefit from further education and what that would look like. I found a school in Florida that had an architecture program with transfer agreements through grad school.
5. The opportunity to build your degree.
If you are unsure of your final major, community colleges are an excellent place to explore coursework in different fields of study for a fraction of the cost of four-year colleges. I started doing this in high school with a 3-week course in photojournalism.
6. The possibility of the same professors for less
I took a few courses at a community college during my undergraduate degree and found out my professor taught the same class for 20 percent of the 4-year university cost. Consider taking some of your first and second-year courses to save money. Just make sure you consult an academic counselor at your 4-year school first.
7. The graduation rates are inaccurate.
Often, you’ll hear about low graduation rates at community colleges. However, community colleges also house many 4-year college students making a pit stop for a course or two. I went back for the third round of community college courses when I needed extra business classes before studying in an MBA program. The timing of the classes was more convenient and cost 80 percent less.
8. The Price Tag
The average public 2-year college published 2020-2021 tuition and fees for in-district students is $3,770 versus $10,560 for in-state public 4-year college students according to the College Board’s Trends in College Pricing and Student Loans 2020. The average cost students pay after grant aid was free for first-time, in-district 2-year students. While the cost for first-time, in-state public 4-year students was over $3,000 for the same year.
One of the scary parts for students wanting the full college experience is believing community colleges won’t have athletic programs. Over 50 percent of Community Colleges do. One of the most notable community college athletes is Albert Pujois, 9-time Major League Baseball All Star and current designated catcher for the Los Angeles Angels. On the other coast, former Yankee Jorge Posada collecte four major league baseball rings.
10. Support for nontraditional students
The average age of community college students is 28 years old, and 40 percent are first-generation students, says Parham. Community colleges also host a variety of english as a second language courses. When in-person, community colleges offer services for those who need extra help from daycare to tutoring. If attending a community college virtually, it’s important to call and ask about how services will be accessed and what equipment is needed.
Bottom line: You can have full college experience with mentoring, internships, leadership, and athletic opportunities in community college. Better yet, you can participate in programs designed for the job needs of your area. If you decide to finish at a four-year school, you could get the same degree while saving 80 percent or more on your first two years of college.