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Why Community College Might Be the Best Move for You

Before you equate getting a college degree with the phrase "Ivy League" or "ridiculously expensive school," chew on this: An excellent degree can be yours for the earning at a two-year community college. And yes, we're talking about that two-year school right in your community.

History of Community Colleges in America
Although higher education has been a centuries-old tradition in the United States, public community colleges that offer educational opportunities to all who want them are still relatively "new." The first community college in America was Joliet Junior College in Joliet, Illinois, established in 1901. The school is still in existence, serving the educational needs of tens of thousands of students every year.

Types of Community Colleges
The term "community college" refers to a school that awards associate's degrees, certificates, and diplomas. Schools that concentrate on career training are sometimes known as technical or vocational schools, in that they prepare students with the necessary skills to enter the workforce immediately after graduation.

Benefits of Attending a Community College
Here are some key benefits for attending community college:

  • Affordability. Community college tuition is just a fraction of what you'll pay to attend a private university. This, of course, will make a huge difference for low-income students, as well as anyone who is looking for an affordable education.
  • Availability. Community colleges are found in your local community, which can significantly shorten your commute and simplify your life.
  • Academic Accessibility. Most community colleges have an open-door policy, which means that their programs are typically open to anyone who has completed high school.
  • Adult-Friendliness. Most community college students are adults with work and family responsibilities, and community colleges tailor programs to that population.

Difference Between Community College and Other Forms of Higher Education
Just as any other institution of higher education, a community college's primary mission is to educate its students. However, a community college does a lot more than educate its students; it also stimulates the community in which it is located by giving it a continuous flow of graduates who are ready for the local workforce. Here are just a few of the ways in which community colleges build strong communities:

  • Job fairs are often held on community college campuses for students to give them an opportunity to reach out to area employers for internships and employment. Central New Mexico Community College hosts a "reverse" job fair, in which local companies and businesses come to campus to talk to students about what specific openings are available in their companies for skilled workers.
  • Some schools, like Tennessee Technology Centers, divide their students into cohorts. By working their way through a program as a group rather than an individual, students at community colleges feel much more accountable for their academic goals when they've got their classmates working along side them and rooting each other on to success.
  • Community colleges offer accelerated degree options, as well as shorter diploma or certificate programs. It's a win-win situation: students finish up their coursework sooner and the community at large benefits from having more skilled professionals working at local businesses and health care facilities.

Attending a community college is a smart move both academically and financially, especially for those who are looking to transfer to a four-year school to finish their bachelor's degree. Consider some of the benefits of getting your start at a community college:

  • More bang for your buck. Tuition for a two-year associate's degree program at a community will cost you about half of what it would run for just one year at a private college or university. And because tuition is such a bargain at community colleges, you can feel a bit freer to take a class out of pure enjoyment, even if it doesn't count towards your degree.
  • More time to dabble. Don't sweat about not having declared a major, since you don't have to at a community college. An associate's degree is a mix of general education classes that will give you a great idea of the classes that interest you and the areas in which you thrive.
  • More diverse student body. Community colleges are reflective of the surrounding community. On campus, you will a diverse population of students, and not just in regard to their ethnic backgrounds; students of community colleges range in age from 18 to 50 and older.
  • More attention. Many community colleges pride themselves on small class size, which means that you'll have the individualized attention you'll need to succeed in your degree or certificate programs.
  • More opportunities. Many students use community college as a stepping-stone to some of the most prestigious four-year colleges, including those in the elite Ivy League.

How to Find Out More About Community Colleges
Getting information about a community college can be as easy as walking up to the admissions office at the school itself. Most schools have an open admission policy, which cuts down on the traditional paperwork that is needed for four-year schools. Also, since you don't have to be enrolled in a program in order to take a class at a community college, the best way to find out more about the college in your community is to take a class!

Applying to a Community College
For most community colleges, you'll need to provide proof of residency and proof of a high school diploma or G.E.D. Aside from general contact information and, of course, payment for tuition, that's all it takes for you to enroll in community college!

Typical Length of Degree/Education Types at a Community College
The length of time a student attends a community college depends on what program he or she enrolls in, as well as how quickly he or she decides to complete the program. Full-time students take more classes each semester than part-timers do, so full-time students will complete their degree or certificate programs more quickly. Additionally, programs vary in the scope of their curriculum, so students should be aware that the length of any program depends on the skills needed for certification in that field.

Skill Sets Developed at a Community College
The type of skills that a person can hone during their studies at a community college depends on the reason for attending in the first place. If a student wishes to move onto a four-year college after spending two years at a junior college, then he or she will develop the necessary academic skills, such as research and analysis, which will allow for success in completing a baccalaureate degree program. If a student attends a community college in the hopes of starting a career, then he or she can expect to obtain the necessary training that will allow for immediate employment, if available, in the target field after the diploma, certificate, or associate's degree is earned.

Interesting Facts about Community Colleges

  • The states with the largest number of community colleges are California, North Carolina, Texas, Illinois, and New York.
  • The majority of community colleges have an open admission policy, which means that you must only show proof of your high school diploma or GED in order to enroll in classes.
  • According to the American Association of Community Colleges, the average age of students enrolled in community colleges during the 2007-2008 year was 28.
  • The 2008 report of the AACC also noted that 42% of community college students were the first generation in their family to attend college.

Celebrities Who Attended Community College

  • Queen Latifah, actress and rapper, Borough of Manhattan CC, New York, NY
  • Ross Perot, politician, Texarkana Community College, Texarkana, TX
  • Teri Hatcher, actress, De Anza College, Cupertino, CA
  • Billy Crystal, actor, Nassau Community College, Garden City, NY
  • Halle Berry, actress, Cuyahoga Community College, Cleveland, OH
  • Walt Disney, film innovator, Metropolitan Junior College, Kansas City, MO
  • Clint Eastwood, actor and director, Los Angeles City College, Los Angeles, CA



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