Friday, July 13, 2018

Could a Community College be Right for You?

By Marilee Petranovich 

When considering the large number of choices available for higher education, the decision of where or how to attend college can seem overwhelming.  In-state or out-of-state? On-line, face-to-face, or a combination of both?  Public or private?  4-year or 2-year institution?   While 4-year institutions make perfect sense for many students, the traditional schedule of moving directly from high school to a full-service university may not be the best decision for every student.  According to the College Board, 4 of 10 graduating high school students are initially attending community colleges making them the fastest growing sector of postsecondary education.  For many students a 2-year community college offers many advantages.

Lower Cost 
Tuition and fees at 2-year institutions are much lower than at larger universities.  This savings can translate into lower debt, even if students only enroll for the first two years before transferring to a larger institution.  The average in-state tuition rate for 4-year public colleges is $9,970 per year.  This compares to most 2-year public community colleges where annual tuition for a fulltime student can be approximately $2,000.  Tuition and fees at UNM-Gallup are $1,932 per year, for example.  Higher education at an affordable price is a hallmark of community colleges.

Closer to Home 
With easier geographic access to community colleges, students can live at home while attending classes.  Not only does this save money on housing, but it can be especially important for students who have families, jobs and community responsibilities that make it hard to relocate.  This also allows for more flexibility, especially for non-traditional students or for those who want to take a slower pace of a few classes at a time to allow for more work/school/life balance.  According to US News and World Report (June 10, 2015), nearly 60% of community college students attend classes part time.  Being able to effectively combine school and home life makes schools that are closer to home attractive options for many.

Complete Basics 
Most core classes at community colleges are easily transferable to other in-state public universities due to carefully designed articulation agreements.  This allows students to complete their basic general education requirements at a lower tuition rate before transferring for a bachelor’s degree.  At the less expensive tuition rates, students can also feel more comfortable in exploring academic and career options without feeling pressured to immediately declare a program of study.

Focus on Teaching 
Community colleges have less of a research mission so faculty can be more fully focused on teaching and providing personal attention to students.  Additionally, many 2-year college professors are experts in their field which allows them to bring real world experience to their curriculum.  At UNM-Gallup, 30% of faculty have earned a PhD, 76% have earned a master’s or terminal degree and many work professionally in their teaching areas.

Small Class Sizes 
The average class size at UNM-Gallup is 25 students and the student to faculty ratio is 18:1.  This closely aligns with comparative figures of community colleges nationally.  Many larger universities may have classes of 300-400 students, especially in courses that meet core requirements.  Smaller class sizes offer more ways for students to relate to faculty as well as other students.

Career and Professional Programs 
Many community colleges have a strong emphasis on career and technical education programs that allow students to exit the classroom and get into the workforce in a short time and on their own schedule.  A wide variety of programs provides students many options for career training that is relevant and regionally marketable.  Many professional certificate and associate degree programs at 2-year colleges can provide initial training needed for immediate employment or retraining for enhanced or re-entry employment.

There are many considerations for students when considering their college options.  Perhaps a 2-year institution makes sense as a place to start, continue or complete your education.  For questions about your choices or for specific program information, check with your high school counselor or a community college advisor to learn about the many ways you can make college an affordable, achievable and life-changing choice for you.

For more information please contact:           
Marilee Petranovich
(505) 863-7770

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