The benefits of community college
By Julissa Treviño
“I liked [TC3] a lot because it was a good intermediate step between high school and four year college,” Baker said. “At the same time, the classes were challenging enough to actually teach me stuff, to learn from.”
Baker said one of his biggest attractions to TC3 was due to the fact that the first two years of any university are fulfilling general education requirements. He decided to take those two years at a place that charges a much lower price than a private institute.
But while many people still dismiss community colleges as schools for the underprivileged, low-income and minority students, community colleges are actually serving a variety of students. It is becoming increasingly difficult for many students to afford higher education. Four-year universities hike tuition prices almost yearly now. For example, the cost of attending Ithaca College is $42,183 (tuition and fees) per year.
While about 80% of students nationwide receive financial aid, most students do not have a full scholarship and will ultimately be in debt after graduation. With price tags on most four-year universities increasing, the stigma of attending community college is slowly cooling off.
The American Association of Community Colleges determined that as of January 2008, there were a total of 1,195 community colleges in the United States, with a total enrollment of 11.5 million students. While only 47 percent of community college students receive financial aid, the burden of college fees becomes minimal when tuition is low. The average annual tuition and fees of public community college is $2,361—a small number in comparison to four-year public universities ($6,185) and private colleges and universities (over $30,000).
At the turn of the 20th century, as the government began to realize the necessity of having an educated workforce, community colleges emerged as an affordable, and local, alternative to the research-based university. The two-year institution was also a product of such ideas as universal and open-access education, the vocational education movement and the rise in popularity of adult and continuing education. Today, community colleges are becoming more widely accepted as legitimate higher education institutions for all types of students.
Most community colleges, like TC3, offer rigorous academic and honors programs, highly qualified professors and excellent student services for all types of students. They also offer students the possibilities of community service projects, study and travel abroad and dual credit college work for high school students. Although you cannot receive a bachelor’s degree from a community college, they provide many of the same programs and opportunities as most four-year institutions. By doing general education requirements at a community college and transferring to a four-year college where a bachelor’s degree can be obtained, a lot of money can be saved.
Baker said that his TC3 professors were extremely qualified and had several classes with Cornell students who thought the classes at TC3 were more difficult than at Cornell. “One of my biology professors actually stopped teaching at Cornell to teach at TC3 because he said he liked the student interaction of small classes,” Baker said. “A lot of the professors were really amazing.”
According to the Department of Education, in the 1990s enrollment in community colleges grew by 14 percent, approximately five percent more than enrollment in all of higher education, which grew by nine percent. Between 2000 and 2006, there was a 10 percent increase in overall enrollment at two-year institutions. And though community colleges seem to be accepted into the realm of higher institutions these days, enrollment in community colleges has not had an effect on four-year universities in enrollment, in Ithaca at least.
Michael W. Matier, Cornell University’s director of Institutional Research and Planning for the Division of Planning and Budget, said “enrollment has been stable” at Cornell and that he sees no changes due to community college enrollment increase.
Historically, Ithaca College has not lost students to two-year colleges either, according to Richard Fuller, Acting Enrollment Dean at Ithaca College.
Still, Fuller, who used to be Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Hamilton College and at John Hopkins University, said some students may be going to two-year schools and never applying to IC for other reasons. “That percentage of students, there’s no reason to think it’s gotten any smaller, given the economy and things, it’s probably gotten somewhat larger…just because the difference of cost. It can be a lot less expensive,” he said.
Samantha Pary, a health science pre-med sophomore, attended TC3 for one year before transferring to IC. “It was so cheap compared to Ithaca College. It was a good decision [to attend community college] especially your first or second year of college, you’re just taking core classes for the most part, and it’s so much more worth it,” she said. “And I did get a really good education there. They have really good teachers and free tutoring services, so it’s a really good school.”
Ithaca College, like many other private institutions, is recognizing the quality of two-year institutions and trying to improve the college’s acceptance of community college transfers. The main focus for IC right now is to try to facilitate the transfer process for students, Fuller said. “We’re no longer going to require the SAT for transfer students, which is something that should have been done a long time ago. The provost has started a new taskforce on transfer relations, or transfer recruitments, and we’ve already made some visits, including the president and provost at Tompkins County Community College, and I’m sure we’ll be having a couple of relations with others,” Fuller said.
While community college students only make up about one-third of IC’s transfers each year—about 50 students—Fuller said the school plans on being more aggressive in its interest in community college students. He said he also believes IC’s relations with community colleges will inevitably improve.
“[Ithaca College has] a few articulation agreements [with Tompkins County Community College], but they’re kind of old and they’re getting out of date, so I’m not sure they’re doing students very much good at this point. So, I’m taking a look at those and working with the TC3 transfer coordinator to see if there’s a way that we can serve those students better,” said Carol G. Henderson, acting associate provost, who just recently began her work on transfers.
An articulation agreement keeps students on the right path, while they’re still attending community colleges, to getting a degree in time at Ithaca College.
Like Nathanael Baker, many college students are realizing the benefits of community colleges, and many are even using the opportunities of community college to get ahead in their educations.
And while Ithaca College is perhaps working toward a much needed, significant change in the transfer process, there should be a much broader push toward acceptance of community colleges.
The variety of options available at community colleges and the financial benefits should make students think twice about where to begin their higher education. In the long run, students will get one degree from the school they transferred to anyway.
Julissa Treviño is a sophomore writing major. E-mail her at email@example.com.