The types of degrees and certificate programs offered are one of the main differences between community colleges and four-year colleges and universities. Traditionally, all community colleges are open-access, which means almost anyone who applies is accepted.
The highest academic degree a student can earn at a community college is an associate degree. Four-year colleges and universities only award bachelor’s degrees. Many colleges and universities award graduate and doctoral degrees as well; most also have more selective admissions criteria than most community colleges. Many four-year colleges and universities offer access to remote living facilities to students. Most full-time students at four-year colleges and universities are under 25 years old.
What Are the Benefits of Attending a Community College?
Small class sizes, affordability, convenience, and a faculty who are focused on teaching – as opposed to research – are often cited as the main benefits of those attending a community college. Many adjunct faculty are often current industry professionals who teach one to two nights a week giving back to their trade.
Since they are not as steeped in tradition as their four-year cousins, community colleges have a dynamic content to them. Faculty and administrators are always creating new programs to meet current workforce needs, to help individuals get skills for jobs that are available now.
What Types of Jobs Are Available to Community College Graduates?
The most popular majors for community college graduates include liberal arts and sciences, general studies, and humanities, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Some of the fastest-growing careers for people with associate degrees include professional support services, including dental hygienists, paralegals and legal assistants, and web developers, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projections for 2018 to 2028.
Many community colleges are also technical colleges. These technical colleges tend to focus on certificates and diplomas that lead directly to employment in the workplace. Others schools are transfer-focused, which allow a student to complete their General Education requirements and then transfer to a larger four-year institution. Many successful community colleges offer a blend of both kinds of educational programs.
It is important to know that several community colleges may have selective admissions to certain high-demand programs. The most common example is nursing arts. But if a student doesn’t qualify academically for a specific program, there is generally another aligned program such as medical technician which they can enroll in. A high school diploma is not usually required to attend a community college. Most community colleges offer open admission, which means that applicants do not have to fulfill any prior academic requirements to enroll.
Many high school students can also take college courses at a community college, usually within a dual enrollment program. In these programs, high school students take courses at a community college and receive both high school and college credits upon completion. Sometimes high demand courses are actually held at the student’s high school.
Students also can adjust their course loads to their lifestyle. A community college student can enroll in just one or two community college classes at a time. About 64% of all community college students attend part-time, according to a 2018 National Center for Education Statistics enrollment survey.
Most new students at community colleges will have to take placement tests in subjects like math and reading comprehension before registering for classes. However, more two-year colleges in 2016 reported relying on various methods other than placement tests to determine which classes a student should take than had in 2011, according to the Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness at Teachers College, Columbia University. This trend may mean students can expect to encounter multiple placement methods at community colleges.
Two-year schools that do use placement tests use the scores to determine if a student should complete remedial coursework or developmental education as it is sometimes called before a student enrolls in college-level classes. This allows them a degree of mastery with content generally considered necessary for academic success at this level.
Remedial education/Developmental education aims to prepare students who are considered underprepared for college-level courses. More than two-thirds of community college students are required to take at least one developmental course, according to a 2018 study by the Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness. These remedial courses are noncredit courses, aiming to improve student skills and success in college-level programs.
Most community colleges offer these developmental courses for institutional credit. This means that students enrolled in these courses are a part of an accredited program and qualify for federal financial aid, but the classes do not count toward graduation requirements or are not transferable as part of their coursework.
Students typically will attend the closest or most convenient community college. Students can attend a community college located in another state. However, some districts offer lower tuition to in-district students. They don’t seem to ‘shop around’ for different colleges, probably because they need something that is nearby to work, home, or can work around various family and personal obligations.
The ease of transferring from a community college to a four-year college or university varies greatly based on factors including the state of residence, the educational institutions involved, and the student’s organizational skills. It is key to understand how courses transfer into particular degree programs.
Students going on to a four-year institution need to meet with an experienced adviser to discuss which credits will transfer, whether the institution has an agreement with a college to ensure credits transfer and whether those credits will count as electives or toward a major’s requirements. Students can take advantage of articulation agreements – which confirm that credits earned at one institution will apply at another. Policies do vary greatly states and from institution by institution. Community college students considering transferring should start thinking about their educational goals and plan for transferring as soon as possible, experts say.