Get a Clue about Community College

Community colleges are accredited two-year institutions of higher education dedicated to serving the educational and workforce needs of their local communities. They are often called "the people's college" because of their philosophy that anyone can benefit from a college education. Open admission policies, low tuition rates, flexible schedules, and convenient locations make them easily accessible to the public.

At community college, you can train for some of the faster growing jobs in the economy, or follow a course of study that will allow you to transfer into a bachelor's degree program at a four-year institution. You can also take courses just for pleasure or to improve your work skills.

Although community college isn't the right choice for everyone, this educational option might be your cup of tea for one or several reasons. Consider the following benefits:

  • It's a great bargain. You can't beat the low cost of community college. A public community college's annual tuition and fees are about half those of public four-year colleges and less than 10-15 percent of those of private four-year institutions.

    If you live at home, you can also save money on room and board. Financial aid can help you graduate with no or low debt. If you want to go on to four-year college, but don't have the money yet, attending a community college can help you cut back on expenses and earn transferable college credits until you have the funds to make the switch.

  • You can get in and get started. So your grades aren't or weren't so great, or your SAT or ACT scores weren't stellar. Rather than delay your education, take advantage of community college's open admissions policy and get started. Build a stronger academic record that can help you transfer to a four-year college, or choose a more direct route to a career.

  • You can stay close to home. Community colleges are usually located where you live or are usually within easy reach. Many of them have a main campus and branch campuses so that you have easy and convenient access to their services without living on campus.

  • You can get a flexible schedule. You can find a schedule of courses that fits into your personal schedule. Community colleges are geared to students who work full time or part time and who have families and other commitments. Distance learning courses — online, video, television — offer students an alternative means of taking coursework that is often adjustable to any schedule.

  • You can get help with the basics. If you need additional help with the basics — writing, reading, mathematics, science, study skills — you'll have an opportunity to catch up before you plunge into college-level classes. Developmental skills classes focus on gaining or strengthening skills that you may have missed in high school or may have forgotten because you've been out of school for a while.

  • You can test-drive the college experience. You may be undecided about whether or not you are ready for college, or if you even want to go to college. A two-year experience can help you gain the skills and confidence to go on to four-year schools. Or, it can help you decide you'd rather learn a technical skill and start your career. Either way, you always have the option to continue your education in the future.

  • You can explore your options. Community colleges offer a broad range of vocational and technical studies, as well as liberal arts and science coursework.

    Through the college's career center, academic counseling, and other support services, you can explore what it takes to jump-start a career in fields as varied as accounting, culinary arts, criminal justice, nursing, or computer technology. You can also take courses without credit to see if a certain field is right for you, or to improve your readiness to enter the world of work. You can even enroll in a vocational or technical course such as automotive technology at the same time you're studying art, history, or another subject in a general studies or liberal arts and science track.

  • You can chart a pathway to a four-year institution of your choice. Preparing students to transfer to a four-year institution is one of the original purposes of community college. Many four-year colleges and community colleges, especially those in the same state, have agreements to accept credits from community colleges toward the baccalaureate degree. Many state educational systems give first priority to transfer students from in-state community colleges to their four-year institutions.

  • You can enter the workforce faster with a career-oriented degree. Community colleges offer many programs leading directly to a career. You can earn a two-year associate's degree or enter a shorter-term certificate program (usually a year or less) that offers intensive training in a specialized field. These programs are often not available at four-year institutions.

    Moreover, studies show repeatedly that education translates into greater earnings over your lifetime. Individuals with an associate's degree or technical and vocational certificates consistently earn more than those who have only a high school diploma. The more education you have, the greater your earning potential.

  • You can connect with employers. Community colleges are networked with potential employers. They know what fields are "hot" and what skills the market demands because they ask employers what they need. Community colleges often revise their coursework based on advice from employers.

    Community colleges also offer internships, cooperative education opportunities, and community service learning programs that can give you a competitive edge in finding a job after you graduate or in getting accepted by a four-year college or university.