Community Colleges in the United States

Community colleges are a valuable part of America’s higher educational system. For some students, it’s a middle stopping point between high school and a four year college. For others, it’s their first choice post-secondary schooling, while pursuing vocational degrees, certifications, and licenses.

A wider demographic of students usually attends community colleges than four year colleges and universities. This goes beyond race, gender and ethnicity, as it also speaks to the matter of age. Finally, the culture of teaching at two year schools is slightly different too. Taken together, a community college is a place of unique opportunities and depending on educational circumstances and objectives, a prospective student should take them very seriously.

Many students enroll in community colleges just to take college transferable courses that can be used for university programs later on. There is a very practical reason for this, as students can satisfy many universities core, cluster, and general education requirements at a more affordable price. Tuition as whole tends to be cheaper, and the students usually stay at home longer with their parents, saving on room and board coasts. After two years, most freshman and sophomore requirements are met, and the student can transfer. This leaves them their last two years of specialized course work towards their bachelor’s degree.

Bachelor’s degrees may not be what all prospective students aim for, however. Many community colleges have vocational departments for technicians, hair stylists, basic law enforcement training, and automotive technology. These students are not on a college transfer track. This is a different style of training that is often less esoteric, and more grounded in process. Many can plunge a lot quicker into the subject matter relevant for an intended profession.

Community colleges are very affordable, and cost more than half less than typical university programs. Additionally, local residents may get even cheaper tuition rates when attending community colleges in their county. This also eliminates other extra costs such as living expenses.

Some people arrive at their intended career choices late in life, and after a lot of soul searching, decide to return to school and either cross train, or start over in a new profession. Many of these students tend to be middle aged, and they are often intimidated by the thought of college. After all, college to them means sharing a class room of young twenty year olds. At a university, this is more the case, as the student demographic tends to be younger. However, many non-traditional students have often found a community college a little more welcoming, partly because they see more students their age.

Administrators are acutely aware of this, as are teachers. Community colleges operate differently than universities, where the focus tends shift to the students and facilitating their needs. This is not to say universities do not do this.

However, universities often have to split their focus to educating a student population while conducting research that will bring prestige to the institution. Professors are often masters of their subject matter and not the art of teaching. For example, a well published doctor of cellular biology has spent more of his attention on his expertise, and not on how to teach it to somebody else. Many teachers with doctorates have never taken classes on effective instruction, as their department chair may just likely hand them an attendance roster, a room number, and nothing else.

Community college teachers are often hired for the express purpose of teaching. Research accolades are nice, but in many posted job requirements, an expressed record of excellence in teaching is required. This difference in approach stretches into how classes are scheduled. University professors are often required to teach three classes a semester. In community colleges, the load is more around four to five.

Comparisons can quite often be endless between the two, even in how it stretches into athletics, where the NCAA sometimes resembles a competing professional league. In the end, the differences are numerous. However, if there is one thing apparent, the term “junior college” no longer seems like a very fair description about it.

In the United States, each state has its own organization of public higher education, which consists of universities, community colleges, and technical colleges. This makes it easy to transfer between schools within the same state system. For example, SUNY consists of more than 20 community colleges throughout New York State. Credits can be easily transfered to SUNY universities such as Binghamton and Albany.

There is nothing “junior” about the education that goes at a two year school. Sure, a community college may not have the clout of a Duke, a University of North Carolina, or a Rutgers, but they were never intended to. They serve a different purpose, and they do it rather well for preparing well educated individuals.