There is a widely held myth about the college experience. It goes something like this: Eighteen-year-olds leave their parents' homes in order to live in dormitories with other 18-year-olds. Over the course of four years, they engage in various hijinks, find themselves, pull a few all-nighters cramming for tests, and eventually emerge with a degree of some kind.
There are two problems with this myth. First, it's bankrupting middle-class families. Second, it's undermining our educational system, which, after all, ostensibly exists for the purpose of advancing education, not providing students with an experience.
Most middle-class parents aspire to send their children to a prestigious university to fulfill this myth. Not me, though. I got my start in a community college, and I'm proud that my daughter is following in my footsteps by staying at home, working, and going to community college. I believe this is the best way for her to prepare for success in her career and in her life.
Here are five reasons the reality of the community college experience beats the myth of the four-year college experience.
Affordability: Tuition at our local community college is just over $100 per credit hour. That's an 80 percent savings compared to in-state tuition at the nearest state university. Since the classes are transferrable, why pay an extra 80 percent? The school allows us to pay the tuition bill in three monthly payments over the course of the semester with no interest. We are not incurring a penny of debt.
Learning environment: Instructors at community colleges are there to teach, not to do research or to write books. Students are there to learn, not for the extracurricular activities. Class sizes tend to be reasonable. Introductory classes at four-year colleges are often taught by research professors who have little interest in teaching undergraduates, or by their beleaguered teaching assistants, in stadium-sized classes with hundreds of students. Is that really worth paying extra for?
Work-study balance: Community colleges tend to offer many evening and weekend classes, which allow students to work while attending school. Working gives students a solid grounding in the real world, not to mention the financial independence of a regular paycheck. Furthermore, the need to balance work and study forces students to learn to become organized.
Opportunities for practical learning: How many four-year colleges offer classes in welding, CNC machining, or the latest CAD programs? These hands-on classes can be very useful for engineering students. In the past, academia looked down on this kind of practical learning. Now universities are struggling to catch up.
Opportunity to explore major options: Few 18-year-olds have a clear idea of what they want to do with their lives, yet most four-year colleges force them to declare a major within a semester or two. Community college gives students a greater opportunity to accumulate general education credits and prerequisites while deciding on a career path.
After earning an associate's degree, students can transfer to a four-year school for their junior and senior years. By this time, they will have a proven track record of success in college-level coursework that will make them attractive to admissions departments and help them gain access to scholarships. They will also be more mature, better organized, and clearer about their goals. And starting the four-year college experience at the halfway point makes sense -- by the third year, class sizes are smaller, and both professors and students are more motivated.
The idea that community colleges are only for students whose family incomes and/or grades don't allow them to start out in a four-year school needs to be turned on its head. In reality, community college is the best option for most students and their families, regardless of income or grades. Not only is it a better deal; it's also a better experience.
Readers, do you agree? Tell us what you think in the comment section below.
Agreed - I'm not complaining; just managing it, and looking forward to completing it. As far as those Universities you listed, well; of course. Those are Designer-Name-Brand institutions. I didn't know they were that high, but they were already over the top, off our lists.
JimT, here are a few college costs (tuition + room & bd) as listed in 2011 U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges book: Northwestern, $52,487; Harvard, $50,724; MIT, $50,446; Yale, $49,800; Bowdoin, $52,880; Middlebury, $52,500. There are more, but I'll spare you the entire, depressing list. Also, remember these figures come from a two-year-old book, and the cost of college goes up every year at twice the rate of inflation. So you're not getting off too badly for someone paying two tuitions.
Actual Case-Study; my two kids: Both are currently attending 4-year State Universities, and living on-campus, in dormitories. Considering the big (4) expenses, being Room, Meal-Plan, Tuition, and Books (In that order) I am averaging about $8,000 per semester, (about $16,000 per year), for each child. Certainly not cheap, but a FAR Cry from the preposterous claims of $50K per year. Its just not that expensive.
A good friend whispered in my ear the other day, "Jim, the biggest raise you'll ever get in your career is the one that comes after college graduation!" Looks like I'm in for about $15,000 in new disposable income next year!
After 35 prior comments, this is a late input; very metaphorically representative of the point I'm about to make. Your article's logic and reasoning are sound, and I find myself in complete agreement; but ~alas~ too late. Because I had held those very myths you identified; and in raising my children, they quite aptly inherited my myths. Too late was my financial logic, which was more closely aligned to your points, that a local CC made a lot of sense. But it was too late; the kids already had their paradigms set, and would not entertain a CC over the dormitory experience. My wife and I are very blessed, however, to have properly instilled the multiple other solid foundational behaviors; that our children are practicing making good choices – even though they both "went-away" to school.
Those attending college for "an experience" are wasting thier time and money! The benefit is in the learning the material and understanding the applications of what is learned. As engineers we need to know the way things work, both electrically and mechanically, which covers a huge amount of learning. Then we need to understand, after we have learned. So there is a lot of effort required, no doubt.
I started in a state university but didn't do well. Then I went to a two year school and did very well. Part of that was due to a much better environment, and much was due to more dedicated teachers, who had nothing else to do except make sure that their students were learning. Then I graduated from a four year "technical institute", almost an honors level student, but not in the top ten.
Unfortunately that wondeful institution no longer exists, today it is a "university", offering an MBA and a whole bunch of other advanced degrees in a wide variety of studies. It also has all of the other amenities of the largest universities, and a tuition rate that was 72 times the rate that I paid, and rising. Today I could not afford to attend that school, and I doubt that my education would be as excelllent as the one that I received. But, of course, it would be the "university experience", just like the concert experience kids get today.
But mostly I have enjoyed my engineering career, even the very high stress times.
I think you've highlighted one of the great advantages to the community college experience, tekochip. Academically, it's a big jump from high school to a major university engineering program. Add the away-from-home living experience to that, and you have a very demanding situation. One of the beauties of the community college is that it lets you do one step at a time.
I agree, community colleges are often overlooked and may be the correct path for some students. Someone I love like a son (OK, it was my son) couldn't handle the sudden change in responsibility of living on his own and being a full time Engineering student. Just make certain to speak to an advisor so that all community college credits will transfer. Typically, electives will not transfer, but general education credits will.
There are advantages and disadvantages to community colleges and four-year colleges. One thing I did notice, having taught at both, is that the students who were on campus living in a dorm were more completely immersed in their education. They were less distracted by other aspects of life.
Now that I have 25 years to look back (wow, I'm geezing!) at my college experience, I did some things right and some things wrong.
Community College is the answer for some people, but like another said, you have to be careful which four year engineering schools will accept their credits.
As another poster mentioned, I started at a branch campus of Penn State and spent my first two years there. It was only 40 miles or so from my parents, and I lived in the dorm, which by itself was a life changing experience! The teachers were generally good but I'll admit that I had trouble adjusting to dorm life and missed way too many classes and had to drop some courses. Getting close to the end of my two years, I visited Main Campus and decided that I'd never survive there and decided to finish at Penn State Behrend, which also offers full "non-T" Engineering degrees. This was a good decision, but I still had to take a ten credit summer session to get caught up. Behrend was big enough but small enough, and the instructors were interested. I also experienced working with some foreign professors which was good experience for working with off-shored work in the future...
I joined a social fraternity and contrary to popular belief, I thought it was a good experience. Sure there were some unpleasantries involved when pledging, but nothing too bad. I was part of a good group of guys which helped cement me socially, which isn't the easiest thing for engineers. (No, there weren't many engineers in my fraternity.) Learning parliamentary procedure was also useful for dealing with business practices once in the workforce.
What hurt my education the most, was my screw-ups my first two years, which bumped me out of order for prerequisites. That, combined with the fact that I'm weak at high level math, contributed to it taking me six years to get my EE degree. But, I wasn't really ready (maturity level) to graduate before then, so it worked out for me. My grades weren't all that great, but somehow my experiences and skills enabled me to enter the workforce and here I am.
Oddly, I think that the most important things I took from college, were the improvement of my writing and communication skills, combined with basic electronics knowledge (and getting my feet wet in embedded software). The specific technical skills required for my jobs have been learned while at my jobs, but the ability to communicate effectively was something required from the start.
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