America is Powered by Community Colleges, but...
34% of undergraduate students in 2017 attended a community college. During the 2015-2016 school year, 49% of all students who completed a bachelor's degree at a four year university had been enrolled in a community college at some point. You could do that math. Almost half of all American college graduates have gone through the community college system.
If you're surprised by those statistics, there's likely a clear explanation. Despite how many people attend them, people don't exactly talk up their tenure there. We don't boast about community college experiences the way graduates of 4-year universities do. We don't emblazon their logos onto sweats. Many people don't display their community college credentials on their resumes or LinkedIn pages. If they transferred, they'll only reference where they graduated from, not where they started. Think about it this way: if the valedictorian of your high school class had announced she was going to a community college, people would've wondered what went wrong. Some community colleges have even dropped the "community" from their name in order to sound more appealing. There's unfortunately a stigma out there concerning community colleges that needs to change, and we're happy to help clear the air.
Part of combating the stigma, is admitting it exists. That's the philosophy Dr. Steve Robinson, President of Owens Community College in Toledo, Ohio has adopted. Dr. Robinson is the creator and mind behind a social media campaign to end the stigma against these institutions, #EndCCStigma. We had the pleasure of talking with Dr. Robinson about how he became involved in community colleges based on the truly impressive career trajectory they gave his father, all the advantages they hold for students and faculty alike, and how he became an #EndCCStigma thought leader and advocate.
The stigma, Steve says, is pervasive. He recounted the number of times people have said things to him like, "my nephew was going to go to a community college, but then decided to go to a real school instead." He recalled a time he was on a panel to discuss workforce development. He noted how everyone on the panel advocated for community colleges, yet when he and the other members got into an elevator afterwards, the conversation turned to their own children, all of whom would be attending very selective universities. Even in these circles, Dr. Robisnon pointed out, we're saying one thing and doing another.
We need to change the perception of these institutions so that people talk about them the same way they'd discuss getting into Harvard or Nortre Dame. We want to see community college sweat shirts worn with pride! Above all, we'd love to see graduates entering the workforce not overly encumbered with student loan debt. As we'll cover below, community colleges are a very affordable path towards a degree.
Dr. Robinson shared tons of great insight, too much to include here. We'll be publishing our full interview with him here shortly, so stay tuned.
Now, it bears mentioning that sure, there are under performing community colleges out there, just like there are lousy jobs, bad state schools, less than rigorous private universities, and deceitful businesses. Like any institution, community colleges are not a monolith, and you should still be doing individual research, but community colleges should be a viable option for all high school students, because they happen to have tremendous advantages. Below are ten reasons to consider attending a community college.
The Community College Advantage
1) Affordability - There’s no way that affordability can’t top our list. The average cost of a community college is $3,600 a year. The average cost of a 4-year private college is $36,801. A 4-year public state university is $10,116. Cost should not be weaponized as a counterargument either. In this case, less cost does not equal less value. Community colleges are designed to be low-cost ways to train for employment and gain a degree, and factors like smaller campuses, more adjunct faculty, no research, and fewer athletics help keep overhead down.
2) Small Class Size - The average community college class size ranges from 25-35 students, meaning the likelihood of getting one-on-one time with your professors and having them know who you are is high. Smaller class size provides an easy atmosphere to ask questions, for professors to tailor instruction to individual classes, and help students make and maintain valuable relationships.
3) Faculty Focused on Teaching - Many university instructors are mandated to conduct research and publish, sometimes to the detriment of their students. Community college instructors are only required to teach. This allows them to spend more time answering emails from students, greater flexibility after class, and more time honing their curriculum. It's ideal for the student who needs that face to face time with their professor.
4) Embracing Technology - Because the goals of community colleges are“employment based” versus the “education based” approach four-year universities can adopt, they are often on the forefront of work-based technological innovations. This post by EdSurge gives 10 examples of ways community colleges around the country are embracing the work of the future.
6) Flexibility - 60% of community college students enroll part-time due to family, work, or other obligations. Classes are often scheduled on nights and weekends to help handle the demands of a non-traditional student. Community colleges are more apt to consider that school may not be the only thing a student has on their plate than a four-year institution would.
5) Earning Certifications - More and more employers are accepting certifications in lieu of a degree, and many degree holders are starting to get certifications in lieu of graduate degrees at a much more affordable rate from community colleges, such as the AWS Certification, Microsoft Azure Certification, Google Analytics Certification, or certifications to fly commercial drones.
7) Professional Partnerships - While many students and parents have been slow to become community college supporters, employers looking for highly skilled, specifically trained employees have not. Community colleges are the perfect place for these companies to build their future employee pipeline. Some examples include:
- Tesla START has partnered with six community colleges across the country, including Central Piedmont Community College in North Carolina and Shoreline Community College in Seattle, to offer a 12 week capstone program to their automotive technician curricula, which guarantees employment as a Tesla Technician upon successful completion.
- Google was having trouble filling its many open IT support roles, so in 2018 created the Google Certification course via Coursera. They announced this past fall that throughout this next year, it will now be offered at 100 community colleges around the country.
- Dallas County Community College is one of 22 schools in Texas to recently partner with Amazon to create AWS cloud computing degrees that will help prepare students to meet the growing workforce demand for technology companies in this rapidly emerging sector.
8) Easier Acceptance Policies - The majority of community colleges operate under an open door policy, which means anyone with a high school diploma or GED is accepted upon application.
The admissions process to get into a four-year university is chaotic and stressful at best. As the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board put it, in an op-ed addressing Operation Varsity Blues, "Talented high-school students marinate in a pressure cooker of activities and achievements that does little to stimulate intellectual development." It's enough, as this recent scandal highlighted, to drive people nutty. An open door admission policy could relieve the stress of an already overburdened student.
Home life, mental stress, money issues, undiagnosed learning conditions, and work schedules mean high school can be a fraught time for some students. There's a host of reasons students might've struggled to maintain excellent grades. Community college is the perfect place for someone who struggled academically, socially, or otherwise to start with a clean slate.
9) You Can Still Get the College Experience - Some people justify disregarding community colleges by saying they want the "college experience," yet you can still get that at the community college level. 25% of community colleges in the US now offer housing, a large number of community colleges have athletics, and campuses are still designed for all the "hanging between classes" time you could want.
Daniel F. Chambliss, an organizational psychologist and author of the book How College Works said in a New York Times interview, that the most important element to shaping the "college experience" doesn't have anything to do with housing, sports, or campus layout. Mr. Chambliss states,"What really matters in college is who meets whom, and when. It’s the people, not the programs, that make a difference," and we just established that with small class sizes and more face time with professors, community colleges are a great place to really interact with a diverse group of people, which brings us to the last item on our list.
10) Diversity - You'd have any easy time finding articles reinforcing the thought that the traditional 4 year college acceptance process excludes minorities and people from lower socioeconomic brackets. We're not saying that's correct or incorrect, but we could tell you there is data to back up that community colleges embrace diversity.
There's the recent study that shows attending a community college increases the chance for underrepresented individuals to attend selective universities, the study saying minorities and first generation students feel a higher sense of belonging at community colleges, and the collegiate minority we might not think of: parents. One out of every five college students are parents. At community colleges it's closer to one in four, which is probably because more community colleges go out of their way to accommodate students with children.
BONUS, #11, Because Tom Hanks Said So! - We all love and trust Forrest Gump, right? All kidding aside, the highly successful actor might be the most highly visible community college advocate living right now. Mr. Hanks, on his own admission, never finished his degree, but credits his two years at Chabot College for building the strong base that lead to his career success in this moving NYT op-ed from 2014 entitled "I Owe it All to Community College."