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Community College: An Affordable Option

A college education is one of the most important, but expensive, investments you can make in yourself or your child. When weighing out the options, it's hard to ignore the impressive amount you could save on tuition, room, board, and transportation by staying close to home and attending a community college. Money, of course, shouldn't be the only factor in selecting a college; the quality of education and the applicability to your long-term career goals are equally as important. While there is often a stigma associated with community college, the list below provides some benefits to attending community college that you may not have considered.

Quality Education

A myth continues to persist that two-year colleges sacrifice quality for savings. That bias largely stems from their open admissions policy, in which they accept almost any student with a high school degree, even if they received poor high school grades or SAT scores. Don't let the fact that community colleges are more forgiving fool you. Community colleges have to meet the same accreditation standards as four-year schools, and, because of this, students have to perform at the same high level they would at any other college.

Focused Training

In 2009, a $12 billion plan to graduate 5 million more community college students by 2020 was unveiled. This investment recognizes that, while lucrative jobs require post-high school training, most of the top-paying careers - health technology, plumbing, firefighting and auto repair, as examples - do not require a four-year degree. In fact, according to the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics, eight of the top 10 fastest-growing careers do not require a bachelor's degree. Employers are recruiting workers based more on their skills than on their diplomas.

Smaller Classes

As a rule, community colleges have smaller class sizes, affording students greater classroom interaction, discussion, and one-on-one opportunities with both teachers and fellow students. Also, community college instructors are more likely to be focused on teaching rather than conducting research outside the classroom. At the university level, professors often face a "publish or perish" world, forcing them to rely on less experienced teaching assistants to teach their classes so they can concentrate on writing books and pursuing research projects. Community college instructors don't have to straddle these dual demands on their time.

Flexible Schedules

Community colleges offer more flexible class hours to help meet the diverse needs of their student population. Whether you are working during the day, raising a family, or desire a more flexible schedule, you're likely to find the classes you need at the times that work for you because most community colleges offer both day and evening sessions. Many community colleges offer weekend or online classes as an option, as well. You can also choose to attend school on a part-time basis, an option that's not always available at four-year schools.

Time to Define Your Major

Many students don't know what career they want to pursue out of high school. In fact, two out of three students will change their major at least once during their college career, according to MonsterTRAK. Therefore, community college offers students an affordable introduction to college life and the ability to explore a number of different courses and career paths without the constant worry of high-tuition costs hanging over their heads.

Transferable Units

One of the most important missions of community colleges is to provide students with affordable access to obtaining their four-year degree. The vast majority of colleges and universities accept transfer credits from community colleges. This means that if you manage your community college credits properly, you can complete many of your required general education and preparatory classes at community college, and then transfer to a college or university for upper-division courses, and still graduate in four years.

Strong Academic Support

Many community colleges boast strong counseling programs to ensure you stay on track and take the right courses needed to transfer to a four-year school. They also offer tutors and writing centers to help you achieve the grades you need to successfully transfer to a different school. Most community colleges have "articulation agreements" with four-year colleges, which specifically govern the transfer of credits between schools. It's important for community college advisers and students to monitor these agreements, as university faculty are often updating their programs and coursework requirements.

Abundant Extracurricular Activities

A wide and diversified range of extracurricular activities exists on community college campuses. Like four-year schools, community colleges have a broad educational mission to develop the "whole student" by providing students with volunteer and leadership opportunities that extend well beyond the classroom. Typically, students can choose from dozens of clubs and organizations that appeal to their specific needs and interests, and if they can't find exactly the one they like, they can always start their own.

Networking Opportunities

Community colleges offer wonderful networking opportunities. You may be rubbing shoulders not only with professionals who have returned to school, but also with professors who are local leaders, business owners, and entrepreneurs. These connections can prove invaluable as you gain more skills and are ready to begin your own personal job hunt.

For millions of students, community colleges offer tremendous value in terms of financial savings and educational quality. Diplomas awarded to graduates of four-year colleges who first attended community college don't come with an asterisk. Plus, money saved by first attending a community college can be used for graduate school, which can be even more expensive annually than tuition at a four-year college.

At the same time, attending community college isn't an experience that should be extended indefinitely. The longer students take to accumulate credits beyond the two-year period, the more quickly savings advantages begin to disappear. Extra time spent at the community college level means more years of not only tuition and living expenses, but also lost job earnings.

Community colleges help you to receive specific career level-training for jobs in high demand, allow you to upgrade your skills for work re-entry or advancement, or enable you to transfer credits to a four-year college, where you can earn a bachelor of arts or bachelor of science degree.

Whatever your goal, community college provides a great option to keep you and your career moving ahead.

If you liked this you may also like:

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  • Calculating the Future of Your Student Loans

    College tuition is expensive and growing more costly every year. In 2009, approximately 60 percent of students received financial aid to help pay for tuition. Financial aid allows you, as a student, the opportunity to pay for college without making payments until you graduate, with the exception of grants and scholarships. After graduation, you have a six-month grace period for Federal Stafford Loans and a nine-month grace period for Federal Perkins Loans. Even though you do not have to make payments right away, it's important to learn the facts about repayment options and interest rates, so that you won't be making payments at the same time your own kids are starting college.

  • A College Education Can Cost A Small Fortune

    Are you saving money for your child to go to college? College expenses are on the rise, so check out the many savings options available to you.

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