Is Community College the Right Choice?

Article excerpt

As much energy and treasure is invested in getting students to graduate high school, just as much attention needs to be devoted to shaping where these students land after leaving 12th grade. Fur many, the choice could be community college, but why? Forty or 50 years ago, community college was often die refuge of students who couldn't quite compete academically in a four-year school. Financial consideration was another factor. Today the picture looks quite different.

Not Your Father's (or Mother's) Community College

There is no douhi that community colleges still represent the most accessible gateway to higher education for minority, low-income, Hispanic and first-generation postsecondary education students. According to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), since 1985, more than half of all community college students have been women. In addition, the majority of Black and Hispanic undergraduate students in this country study at these colleges, which are more than 1,100 in number (members of AACC), awarding nearly one million degrees and certificates each year.

But community colleges have taken on a greater importance in today's society. They are now seen as a common and reasonable step in the progression from lugli school to college as well as from unemployment, underemployment or low-paying dead-end careers to a higher rung on the ladder of economic prosperity. AACC reports that half of the students who receive a baccalaureate degree attend community college in the course of their undergraduate studies. Community colleges are also a place where ethnic and social enrichment programs abound - from ESL skills to cultural and community enrichment programs.

The leap to community college, therefore, is not just the prerogative of the freshly minted high school graduate; it is also the destination for nontraditional students who are working while they are enrolled in classes. Fully two-thirds of community college students attend part time. And community college is increasingly home to high school students taking advance courses to make them college ready upon graduation or to enter a global workforce where the competition for well-trained and educated workers is fierce. AACC reports that "the majority of new jobs ... created by 2014 will require some postsecondary education. In addition, the demographics of the workforce are changing. As a result, employers increasingly rely on the very students who currently are least likely to complete their education."

Community colleges, arguably, arc more nimble and better equipped than four-year institutions to move quickly to satisfy those employers. And die boom in community colleges has anotìier positive aspect. It brings an economic boost to die town and community where it is based,

Biggest Bang for the Buck

Make no mistake, there are hurdles to jump to get into community college, stay there and emerge with a career path intact. Much has been said about the high cost of four-year colleges and universities, but community colleges, though less expensive, still require some careful financial planning. Nearly half (46 percent) of students attending community college receive some form of financial aid, according to AACC's analysis of The College Board's Trends in Stitdent Aid: 2010. And those who are not receiving aid are looking at an average annual tuition and fees (2010-11) for public in district community colleges of $2,713 as opposed to the average annual tuition and fees for public in state four-year colleges of $7,605.

This is especially important since many community college students come from the ranks of minorities and the poor, Students who want to be part of die 46 percent who receive financial aid should be counseled and fill out the FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the major application for any form of federal aid but also for most forms of state and institutional aid.

Students can be intimidated and uneasy about the FAFSA paperwork, so it is up to the counselor to be sensitive and supportive about this process. …