COUNTY AND COMMUNITY COLLEGES
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What is a community college?
Community colleges are primarily public higher education institutions that strive to provide affordable and accessible educational opportunities to all.
An associate degree, which takes about two years to complete full time, is usually the highest degree available. Most community colleges are commuter schools and do not offer living facilities to students.
How are community colleges different from four-year colleges and universities?
The types of degrees offered is one of the main differences between community colleges and four-year colleges and universities, Shanna Smith Jaggars, assistant director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, said in an email. Almost all community colleges are open-access, which means almost anyone who applies is accepted.
Usually the highest degree a student can earn at a community college is an associate degree. Most community colleges do not have residential facilities for students.
The population of students tends to be older, too – the average age of a community college student is 28, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.
Four-year colleges and universities award bachelor’s degrees, and many award graduate and doctoral degrees as well; most also have more selective admissions than most community colleges. Many four-year colleges and universities offer living facilities to students. Most full time students at four-year colleges and universities are between the ages of 18 and 24.
What are the benefits of attending a community college?
Small class sizes, affordability, convenience and faculty who are focused on teaching – as opposed to research – are often cited as the main benefits of attending a community college.
What types of jobs are available to community college graduates?
The most popular majors for community college graduates include liberal arts, health professions and business, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Some common jobs for people with a community college education include registered nurses, managers, accountants, police officers, electricians and diagnostic-related technologists, according to a report by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University.
What is a technical college?
Technical colleges tend to focus on credentials that lead directly to the workforce, Shanna Smith Jaggars, assistant director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, said in an email.
Some community colleges are technical colleges, while others are transfer-focused, she said. Other community colleges offer a blend of both kinds of educational programs.
Do I have to apply for admission to attend a community college?
Students may have to submit an application, but most community colleges have open admissions policies. This means that students typically do not have to fulfill any academic requirements or compete with others for admission.
Almost anyone who applies to a community college with open admissions is accepted.
However, many community colleges may have selective admissions to certain high-demand programs, such as nursing, Shanna Smith Jaggars, assistant director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, said in an email. But if a student doesn’t qualify for a specific program, there is generally another program he or she can enroll in.
Community colleges usually review and admit applicants year-round.
Do I need a high school diploma or its equivalent to enroll in a community college?
Not usually. Most community colleges offer open admissions, which means that applicants do not have to fulfill any academic requirements in order to enroll.
Can I attend a community college while still in high school?
Most high schoolers can 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. Sometimes these courses are held at the student’s high school.
Can I enroll in just one or two courses at a community college?
Yes. About 60 percent of all community college students attend part time, according to the 2014 Fact Sheet from the American Association of Community Colleges.
Are there any placement tests I need to take to register for community college courses?
Most new students at community colleges have to take placement tests before registering for classes.
Community colleges use the scores from these exams to determine if a student should complete remedial course work, or developmental education as it is sometimes called, before a student enrolls in college-level classes, according to a report from the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University.
What is remedial education and course work?
Remedial education, sometimes called developmental education, prepares new college students for college-level courses.
College students who do not possess the necessary skills to be successful in college-level courses, based upon placement tests, are typically advised to take remedial courses, according to a report from the National Center for Education Statistics. Close to 70 percent of community college students enroll in at least one remedial course, according to a report from the American Association of Community Colleges.
Most community colleges offer developmental courses for institutional credit, Shanna Smith Jaggars, assistant director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, said in an email. 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.
Can I attend a community college outside of my hometown or state?
Yes. However, Shanna Smith Jaggars, assistant director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, said in an email that some districts offer lower tuition to in-district students.
"But students typically attend the closest or most convenient community college; most don’t seem to 'shop around' for different colleges, probably because they need something that is nearby to work or family obligations," she said.
Out-of-district and out-of-state residents are sometimes charged a higher tuition.
Is it easy to transfer to a four-year college or university from a community college?
The ease of transferring from a community college to a four-year college or university varies greatly based on many factors, including the state of residence, the educational institutions involved and even the student’s organizational skills.
"By and large, I think it is fairly easy to transfer to one," says Christopher Mullin, an expert who formerly worked at the American Association of Community Colleges. But he says that students should be aware that there are always caveats – a student may not be able to go to the particular four-year college or university that they wanted to, for example.
Students can take advantage of articulation agreements – which generally confirm that the credits earned at one institution will apply at another – to make the process easier. But policies vary greatly state by state and institution by institution.
Community college students considering transferring should start thinking about their educational goals and plan for transferring as soon as possible, experts have told U.S. News.
What is the typical transfer relationship between a state’s community colleges and public four-year colleges and universities?
It varies. Some states have smoother transfer systems than others, Shanna Smith Jaggars, assistant director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, said in an email. And within a given state, some community colleges have better transfer relationships with some specific four-year institutions than others.
Articulation agreements can make the process smoother.
These agreements are between educational institutions and allow students to move seamlessly from one institution to the other, while minimizing their loss of earned academic credits, says Christopher Mullin, an expert who formerly worked at the American Association of Community Colleges.
Whether or not a student’s school has an agreement in place, early planning helps.
"They should choose their destination four-year college and program as soon in advance as possible, and then make sure they are taking the 'right' courses at the community college," said Smith Jaggars, in terms of the courses the four-year institution will accept toward graduation requirements in the student’s desired degree program.
What kinds of credentials can be earned at a community college?
Community colleges mainly award associate degrees and postsecondary certificates. Associate degrees usually take about two years to complete full time. Certificates can take anywhere from a few months to several years to complete.
Can I earn a bachelor’s degree at a community college?
Although it is not very common, some community colleges award bachelor’s degrees. Usually bachelor’s degree program offerings at community colleges are limited.
What is an associate degree?
An associate degree is an undergraduate degree that typically takes two years to complete full time. There are mainly three types of associate degrees: an Associate of Arts, an Associate of Science and an Associate of Applied Science, according to a report from the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University.
The Associate of Arts and the Associate of Science degrees are often used as a pathway to a bachelor’s degree. These degree programs are considered condensed versions of bachelor’s degree programs as they include a mix of general education requirements and elective course work, according to the CEW report.
Associate of Applied Science degree programs are usually focused on a particular occupation and appeal to those who want to enter the workforce immediately upon graduation.
What is a certificate?
Postsecondary certificates are awarded by educational institutions, but usually do not take as long to earn as a degree. Certificates can take anywhere from a few months to several years to complete, depending on the program.
Most certificate programs are highly focused on a specific field and are geared toward particular occupations. Common certificate fields of study include health care, cosmetology, auto mechanics, and computer and information services, according to a report from the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University.
Postsecondary certificates are earned for college credit and thus the courses could eventually be applied toward graduation requirements in a formal degree program, such as in an associate degree program.
These certificates are different from industry-based certifications, such as a Microsoft certification, says Christopher Mullin, an expert who formerly worked at the American Association of Community Colleges. Industry-based certifications are awarded by non-education entities; however, sometimes classes at community colleges may embed learning activities that prepare students to earn these credentials.
How long does it take to earn an associate degree or certificate from a community college?
Associate degrees usually take two years to complete full time.
The time to complete a postsecondary certificate depends on the field of study and extent of the program, but the majority of certificate programs can be completed in less than one year, according to a report by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University.
What can I do with a certificate from a community college?
Certificates are offered in a variety of academic disciplines and could be used to pursue a better job in a number of industries.
Common fields include auto mechanics, construction trades, computer and information services, business and office management, transportation and materials moving, health care and cosmetology, according to a report by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University.
Individuals who possess a postsecondary certificate earn nearly 40 percent more than a high school graduate when they work in the field they studied, according to the same CEW report.
Are the instructors at community colleges of the same quality as those at four-year colleges and universities?
Evaluating instructor quality at community colleges depends on how you compare instructors at community colleges to those at four-year colleges and universities.
Community college instructors spend most of their time teaching and working with students, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They usually don’t spend as much time working on research as their counterparts at four-year institutions.
At large research universities, professors usually spend a good amount of time conducting original research and often spend less time teaching, according to the BLS.
Instructors at both types of institutions must usually have at least a graduate degree.
How many hours per week per course should I expect to study outside of class?
For every one hour of lecture per week, students should plan to study for at least two hours per week, some experts say.
That’s about 30 hours per week for a student taking five classes, as each course usually requires about three hours of lecture per week.
What is the difference between credit and noncredit classes?
Classes that are earned for credit count toward graduation requirements in an accredited program of study, such as in an associate degree program, Shanna Smith Jaggars, assistant director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, said in an email.
Noncredit classes do not count toward graduation requirements.
These courses are generally for unaccredited programs, certifications or exam prep, said Smith Jaggars, and do not qualify for federal financial aid.
Do most community colleges offer online courses?
Yes. Most students who take online courses at a community college take one or two online courses per semester for the sake of the flexibility around their work schedule, but they fill out the rest of their schedule with face-to-face classes, Shanna Smith Jaggars, assistant director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, said in an email.
Online classes at a community college can offer benefits such as convenience and affordability, according to some experts.
Do community colleges offer evening or weekend classes to cater to students who work full time?
Yes. However, many community colleges offer limited numbers of evening and weekend classes, so students who need flexibility may have to take online courses instead, Shanna Smith Jaggars, assistant director of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University, said in an email.
What’s the profile of an average community college student?
The average age of a community college student is 28. About two-thirds of community college students attend school part time. Most students work either part or full time. Close to half of community college students belong to a racial or ethnic minority. About one-third of community college students are the first in their family to go to college, according the 2014 Fact Sheet from the American Association of Community Colleges.
Do international students attend community colleges?
Yes. Close to 88,000 international students attended community colleges during the 2013-2014 school year, according to data from the Institute of International Education.
Community colleges can serve as a gateway for international students to attend four-year colleges and universities through 2+2 transfer agreements, a type of articulation agreement, according to a report from the American Association of Community Colleges. In these programs, students spend two years at a community college then transfer to a four-year college or university for the remainder of their degree program.
Prospective students can research U.S. community colleges by visiting individual community college websites and the AACC website, among other resources.
What is the social scene like at community colleges?
Community colleges are typically commuter schools. The average age of students at community colleges tends to be older. Many community colleges offer a selection of student organizations that students can become involved with, but the social atmosphere at community colleges tends to be drastically different from that at residential four-year colleges and universities.
Do community colleges offer extracurricular activities?
Despite the notion that community colleges offer limited opportunities to connect with other students outside of class, most community colleges offer a variety of student clubs and organizations that allow students to socialize with their peers.
Many offer athletic opportunities, too. Dozens of community colleges compete against one another in sports and are members of the National Junior College Athletic Association.
1. Do community colleges offer career services to students and graduates?
Many community colleges have career services offices that offer resources such as career counseling or workshops on creating resumes, for example.
Another benefit is that community college instructors typically have a background in industry, not academia, which is the typical background of instructors at four-year colleges and universities. Community college instructors may be able to offer their students a real-world perspective of the field they are studying.
2. What types of opportunities do community colleges offer nontraditional, adult learners?
The types of services available at community colleges vary by institution, but many offer some resources to assist nontraditional, adult learners who may be juggling school with work, family and other obligations.
Some students at community colleges may be able to earn credit for what they already know, such as through a job or the military, via prior learning assessments.
Some community colleges offer day care centers for students’ children and flexible course delivery options, such as online and evening and weekend classes.
3. What types of services do community colleges offer to military veterans?
Most community colleges have programs or services specifically designed to assist members of the military and veterans, according to a report from the American Association of Community Colleges.
At some colleges this may include campus centers designed for veterans to network and receive services, such as tutoring, according to the AACC report. Others may offer veterans credit for prior experience in the military.
4. Do community colleges offer dorms?
Most community colleges do not offer housing to students. There are fewer than 50 community colleges in the U.S. that offer residential facilities to students, according to a 2013 report from the
American Association of Community Colleges.
International students considering community college may want to look into homestay programs, where students pay a fee to stay in a private room of a host family or individual near the school.
5. What types of services do community colleges offer to English language learners?
Many community colleges offer English language classes to students whose first language is not English, which can help prepare them for a college-level English writing class. Community colleges may be a good fit for international students because they generally have low tuition rates and offer students an easier transition to U.S.-style academics, experts have told U.S. News.
Cost and Financial Aid
1. How do community college costs compare with those for four-year colleges and universities?
Community colleges tend to be considerably cheaper than four-year colleges and universities.
The average total tuition, fees and room and board rates at all two-year institutions in the U.S. was about $9,000 during the 2011-2012 academic year, according to the most recent data available from the National Center for Education Statistics. The average total tuition, fees, room and board rates at all four-year institutions in the U.S. was about $23,000 during the same year.
2. Do community colleges offer financial aid?
Yes. About 60 percent of community college students who apply for financial aid receive some, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. Federal grants, federal loans, state aid and institutional aid are among the types of financial aid awarded to community college students.
Students considering community college should avoid costly financial aid mistakes, such as borrowing too much, and may want to budget for unexpected costs such as transportation and food.
3. Do I have to pay for remedial classes?
Yes. But for most students this cost can be covered by financial aid, Shanna Smith Jaggars, assistant director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, said in an email.
Trying to fund your education? Get tips, news and more in the U.S. News Paying for Community College center.