The Community College Advantage

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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16 Responses

  1. Marchmaine says:

    Re: your last paragraph.

    Virginia has an interesting program where completing 2-yrs at a community college provides a *guaranteed* transfer/acceptance (with full credit) to *any* VA state school… including UVA and William & Mary. The only caveats are GPA (WnM requires 3.6, UVA 3.4, and so on down to sub 3.0) and course of studies.

    Its the latter, course of studies, that’s the only really confusing thing… since every college is a little different, and it forces a person to pick a major really before freshman year… vs. just showing up at your college and taking the core classes and selecting a major Sophmore year.

    So, its a tiny bit jinky for lack of flexibility on course of studies… but the Community Colleges do a decent job of helping you with counselling.

    My 3rd child completed High Shool a year early (Homeschooled), and we didn’t want to send him off to college, yet… so we enrolled him full-time in the local CC – which is where we picked-up all the first hand knowledge of this under-advertised program. He finished his first semester with a 4.0, knocking out a combo of Math, English, Science core classes. We’ve left open the door for him to apply “regular” to University… but I actually think he’ll go 2-yrs; he likes the freedom and the idea of getting an AA and a guaranteed transfer seems to appeal to him.

    I wish we’d done it for our first two… as homeschoolers we’re accustomed to the “stigma” of low prestige… so this approach doesn’t phase us. I can imagine… and have experienced… our NOVA peers being horrified at the prospect of 2-yrs CC plus a degree from the exact same 4-yr college that they are sending their kids to. As I say, wish we’d done it for the first two… and am sure we’ll do it for the next three.

    So… if you’re in Virginia, check it out.Report

    • Doctor Jay in reply to Marchmaine says:

      I am an ardent supporter of CCs and I’m so happy that you are finding this a beneficial and successful path.Report

      • Marchmaine in reply to Doctor Jay says:

        Total cost for 2 full 18 credit semesters: $5,363.10 (living at home).

        Total cost for older brother’s Virginia State School: $24,688 (includes Room&Board).

        Assuming he goes to UVA or VA Tech he’d graduate with one of those degrees for ~ $60k… a savings of $40k.

        So, for some people, the CC validates their access to elite schools like UVA/W&M/VATech – which might be necessary given their schooling history (UVA is notorious for not accepting Homeschoolers – except the obvious perfect score geniuses). While for other folks, cutting the cost of college by 40% is a huge leg-up.

        We’ve yet to find out if the fine print on the transfer process meets the advertising… but worst case he’ll have at least 60-72 college credits that will transfer.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Marchmaine says:

      Madison Area Tech College had a similar program for entry to UW-Madison. It was called College Parallel, and I used it to knock out a large chunk of Freshman and Sophomore classes, especially ones that were notorious weeder classes at the UW. Stuff like Chemistry I & II, held at the UW in massive lecture halls with smaller lab sections. At MATC, it was just a normal class of about 30.

      Gave this guy a nice transition from military training to academics.Report

  2. Doctor Jay says:

    I think the key issue is that in many states such as CA and evidently VA, acceptance in a major school contingent on performance at a defined level is mandated by policy (or perhaps by law).

    I support this policy fully. I cannot sing its praises enough. There is a class of student who belongs in college, but doesn’t have either the family tradition or the financial means to discover that truth, and CCs fill that gap.Report

  3. Jaybird says:

    I’d compare to the arguments about immigration.

    It’s the people who want to bust their asses and move to a different country that you’d think would be the ones most desirable. They’re not here trying to get welfare, after all. They’re here wanting to *WORK*.

    Same for Community College people who use it as a stepping stone for traditional colleges.

    They’re self-starters who want to bust their asses and get a degree to make a better life for themselves (and their children).

    Hell, I know that if I were hiring someone, I’d pick the community college person who jumped to a trad college over the person from the small liberal arts college. What do I know about the SLAC graduate? Do I know anything about anything?

    I know that the community college -> trad college grad is determined, goal oriented, self-starter, etc. You can’t fake that.Report

  4. fillyjonk says:

    It used to regularly be recommended (at least in the Upper Midwest, where I lived) that most college-bound people would probably benefit from starting at a community college and getting the gen-ed type courses taken care of, and then transferring to a larger, flagship school (because your intro classes THERE would be a 700 person lecture, whereas at a community college, there’s a good chance you’d be in a class of 30 and have an easier time talking to the prof if you needed to).

    At my university, we accept a lot of transfer students. Some are very well-prepared. Some are not. The vagaries of the “2+2” agreements lead to this: some campuses have classes that count as our intro classes, but are greatly simplified and streamlined (not in a good way) versions of them. We do have regular meetings where we try to hash out the transfer matrixes and ideally they should work, but like everything, you get a Highly Connected Person or a bully and they manage to force through what they want…

    And I admit, there are one or two junior colleges in the region where I cringe slightly when I learn I have a student coming from them because of bad past experience. But most of our students coming in with associate’s degrees do fine. Some of the better students I’ve had started out at community colleges because it helped them mature a little, being there first.

    then again, we are not an elite school. Might be different at the really elite schools, I don’t know.

    I took the traditional path of starting out in my four-year but I had lots of AP credits and took some summer classes at a near-to-my-parents college (I didn’t GO there because the program I wanted to major in, theirs was very weak). But I knew what I wanted to do and had some of my gen-eds accounted for by APs….

    A lot of it does come down to how hard someone wants to work and the campus climate. I put in one semester at a community college (teaching) when I was a grad student myself, it was not a good experience, I was not asked back, because I was told my expectations were too high. I had students who wouldn’t work, they would sit in lab and ask me to tell them the answers to the questions in the lab manual and would be unhappy when I told them the point of doing the lab was for them to try to figure out the answers themselves.

    This was a private community college and I think they mainly wanted continued tuition money; I never heard of anyone successfully transferring to the state school I was a grad student at.Report

    • I was fortunate to have so many AP credits that I was a junior when I started college. I still took 4 years to graduate, but having most of my pre-req’s out of the way gave me two advantages. One, I was able to skip most of the large lecture classes (which at my school would have been closer to 200 or 300 students than 700, but still….). Two, I had much more freedom to take classes based on what I wanted to take and not on what I had to take. (My (public) high school district paid for students’ AP exams, so there wasn’t even a financial cost to me. The school district discontinued paying for them the year after I left.)

      There were probably some classes I ought to have taken and from which I could have benefited,* but which I didn’t take, because of the AP program. So it wasn’t all good.

      *Weirdly, at my college, a 3 on the European AP exam got you credit for Western Civ. part 1 but not part 2, even though the exam is almost all about part 2 content, with little on anything before the Renaissance. I might have benefited from taking Western Civ. 1.Report

  5. Tracy says:

    This makes me happy. I’m currently doing this with my community college-two years to finish pre-requisites-then transfer to UNLV. Most students here in Clark County opted to do it this way. It’s much more affordable. However, a few pitfalls. You’re exempt from taking some classes at university level, until you complete the basic requirements at jr college.Report

  6. Dark Matter says:

    Agreed. Community College is a VERY strong option. My wife and I have gone to the local one off and on over the years.

    On a side note I’ve always been impressed with the quality of teaching I’ve gotten there. I’ve gone to 5 colleges over the years (very long story) and the amount of money I’ve paid to go has had nothing to do with the quality of the teaching.

    Profs at big expensive high level research institutions can and often are terrible undergrad teachers. If your day job is trying to rewrite the law of Gravity then you probably think it’s a waste of your time to teach 1st or 2nd year Physics to teenagers.

    However someone that bad would be fired at a Community College and/or simply not teach.Report

  7. j r says:

    It perpetually vexes me that more politicians and policy folks don’t have community colleges playing a much more prominent role in their education policies. Bernie Sanders, for instance, is currently getting a lot of replies on a Tweet about how the existence of people with $300k in student loan debt means that we must make college tuition-free. To me, it just means that more people should be taking advantage of community colleges and public universities. I guess for some folks, all but the most selective public universities have some form of cooties.

    My cynical take is that the right is to cozy with the for-profit college industry and the left tends to view “free college” as a way of subsidizing credentials for their technocrat class constituency. But maybe I’m too cynical.Report

  8. Muke Dwyer says:

    I paid $2,500 per year for my last two years of high school bagging groceries. Community college was $880 per year plus books…and I got a Pell Grant which I used to keep my junky car running and saved the rest for state U. I recommend CCs to everyone. I had awesome professors and a great experience. It also helped me ease into college on a smaller campus. So glad I took that route.


  9. “the likelihood that community colleges are successfully filtering for those that are genuinely college material. Notably, doing so at a much lower cost (to both the student and government) than going straight to a university”

    I think that’s an important point, too. In my opinion, if a student spends one or two semesters at a community college and decides college isn’t for them, then the community college has done its job. The problem is, community colleges can’t really be judged on that basis. A legislature or a higher ed commission–or whoever is responsible for paying the bills and ensuring the longterm stability of the community college–probably wants results like completion numbers and numbers of transfers to 4-year schools. I’m not sure how to square that circle.Report

    • To be clear, I don’t think legislatures, etc., are wrong to want results and to expect the results to be in some way quantifiable (and not speculative about what students learned wasn’t right for them). Also to be clear, a student who discovers that college isn’t for them is likely to experience that discovery as a reversal or a personal loss or failure, at least in the short term. So it might not seem to them that the community college did right by them. (And of course, there may be cases where community college, or a particular community college, wasn’t right for that student but a different school would be or would have been.)Report

  10. Just to add to this: I work at a big university’s main campus. But one way we get student is that they start out at one of the satellite campuses and then transfer here. It’s worked out really well for them and for us.Report