Friday, August 03, 2007


Ask the Administrator: Do CC Students Miss Out?

A prospective college student writes:

I'm about to start my college career as a freshman at our local community college and today, while searching for articles on community college, I came across your blog. As all my friends are beginning to leave for their four year schools and meet their roommates and have their orientations, now, more than ever, I realize how many of those experiences I won't to get to have. To quote the beginning of an essay in Chicken Soup for the College Soul called College Talk...

"It seemed to come on like the flu. Suddenly, out of nowhere,everyone was talking about college. Lunchtime discussions changed from who's dating whom into who's going to what college and who did or did not get accepted. And just like the flu leaves its victims feeling awful and helpless, such was the case for this new fascinating subject and me.

I don't clearly remember the actual conversations. I do, however,remember why I wasn't interested in all this "college talk." We didn't have enough money for me to go to a real college. I would begin my college years at a junior college. This was the final word and I had accepted it. I didn't even mind terribly. I just wished everyone would stop talking about this university and that Ivy League school.

The truth is, I was jealous. I had worked so hard to get good grades in school and for what? Each time I found out someone else I knew had just been accepted to the college of their dreams I would turn a deeper shade of green. I didn't like feeling this way, but I couldn't help it.It felt like they were going to jump ahead of me. They were going to have the big life experiences that turn a teenager into an adult and I was going to get left behind."

When I read this, it struck a chord. I won't get to have the roommate or the chance to fend for myself away from home. At my graduation, 'college talk' was common. When people found out that I was attending (Local) Community College, the response that I got more often-than-not was "Oh? Community College? I'm sorry." These responses, as well as recent comments from my four-year-school friends has got me thinking, am I missing out on life experiences? I opted for a community college because with five children, my parents can't help me pay for my education and with my current job, community college is about all I can afford if I don't want to be in debt up to my eyeballs in four years. Around here, people think that those who go to community college have a less than remarkable IQ and I can't even count the number of times people have remarked upon this in conversation with me. Truth is, I worked my butt off in high school, fighting for straight A's and good test scores in my honors and AP level classes.

So my question to you is this, what do you believe the rift is between a university and a community college? Education quality, those "life experiences, class size, and anything else you can think of. I want to hear the scope from someone on the inside. I'm sick of all these degrading comments from friends and family, comments are really starting to get to me, I want to know if what they say has any truth what-so-ever.


Since the week began with some reminiscing about the teen years, this is a good way to wrap it up.

There's a lot here – far more than I could do justice to in a single post – so I'll just respond to what I can, and ask my readers to help fill in or correct what I missed or got wrong.

It sounds like the 'college experience' you're wondering about isn't just the academic part, but the other stuff – dorm life, parties, all that. Reading your letter reminded me of my insistence, as a high school senior, on going to college in another state. There were some terrific colleges in my own state, including a few very close by, but I wasn't having it. I wanted, and got, distance. It had nothing to do with the classes or the professors. For my own reasons, I just wanted out.

In some necks of the woods, college is a rite of passage. It's what you do after high school. By the end of high school, especially in relatively affluent and/or educated areas, there's a status competition that goes with it. I'll plead guilty to having fallen for that hook, line, and sinker. My divorced Mom sweated blood – and I worked in an ice factory – to pay my tariff at a Snooty Liberal Arts College. I finally paid off the last loan at age 35. I wanted that Snooty Seal of Approval, and got it.

In some ways, it was a great place – beautiful campus, small classes, great professors, all that. I lived in dorms and did work-study jobs in the cafeteria and the library and joined the campus radio station and the college Democrats and learned that I really didn't like plastic cups of Old Milwaukee. I had my first real girlfriend there, and I'm still occasionally in touch with a few friends from there. But I was still the same person after SLAC that I was before, even with the Seal of Approval.

My wife took a different route. She lived at home and commuted to college – a respected Catholic four-year school less than an hour away. (Many students at four-year schools commute. The “four years of dorm life” version of higher ed is surprisingly rare.) She didn't join campus clubs, but she did make wonderful friends with whom she still hangs today. She has fond memories of college, and got her loans paid off a lot quicker than I did.

I did grad school at a Flagship State University, where the undergrads were herded like cattle from lecture hall to lecture hall, where as often as not they were lectured at (and always graded) by graduate students like me. What they paid tuition for was never clear to me. They mostly lived in dorms for freshman year, then did battle with a nasty off-campus housing market (that is, slums) after that. Then I worked at a proprietary college, where the students had a bracingly utilitarian concept of what college was for, and that was that. Now I work at a cc.

After all that, I can tell you with confidence that who you are, and what you do, will make far more difference than where you go.

A close friend from grad school – one for whom I'll be giving a Best Man Toast next week, in fact – spent a year teaching at my SLAC alma mater a few years ago. Hearing his side of it brought it all back. I remember being nervous all the time when I was there. He said that it was part of what professors had to do. Since the entrance standards there are so tough, the only way not to give all A's is to punish every single little flaw. As a result, the students become intellectually risk-averse. The papers there fit what I remembered – technically proficient, but safe and deadly boring. The graduates of SLAC tended to slot into careers that reward those traits: financial services, consulting (remember that?), medicine, law, higher ed. Very few entrepreneurs.

I was struck, in subsequent stops on my academic tour, at how many risks students were willing to take. Most didn't, of course, and some risks don't work, but the best students had a freedom that I never felt like I had at SLAC. The best students at the more freewheeling places have a worldliness that you just can't fake, because they earn it. SLAC's are academic hothouses in which some delicate breeds are able to flourish, but they don't do well when transplanted. The point is to do well when transplanted.

If you're worried about beer or boyfriends, don't be. There will be plenty of opportunity for both. (A clarinetist I briefly dated once said, in apparent seriousness, “men are like buses. If I miss one, there'll be another in fifteen minutes.” I couldn't decide if that was mere callousness or comic genius.) Dorms are a lot less interesting than they're cracked up to be. Friends will be made wherever, and the upside of the tough job market for professors is that some really great professors can be found just about anywhere.

The downside of a cc is the lack of snob appeal. Simply getting into an elite school is a Seal of Approval in a way that getting into an open-admissions college isn't. CC's fall victim, in the public mind, to the old Groucho Marx line about never joining a club that would accept you as a member. But you've already proved you're good enough to get in anywhere. It's what you do once you're there that matters.

If you go the cc route, my advice would be to demand from it the fullest experience it can offer. Join a few clubs, plug into the grapevine, look for an Honors program, join Phi Theta Kappa if/when you can, get involved. If you choose to treat it as less than a “real college,” that's what you'll get. But if you take ownership of your experience, you'll be well ahead of your peers elsewhere who drink their way through indifferent studies. And yes, you'll have much lower loan payments when you get out, which means you'll have more options. This is not to be sneezed at.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers – what do you think?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.

College is certainly what you make of it. I've been to snooty and to public access. At snooty, you don't always have access to professors until you are a grad student. In some ways, the cc atmosphere can give you more of a support net to find like-minded souls - everyone is less likely to try to confirm to their ideal of noncomformity. And the age range at a cc provides with some more than interesting experiences. Having someone stand up in a history class who lived through events that seemed like they happened during your grandparents' lifetimes (and that actually did) is irreplaceable.

It's your life - strive for what YOU want out of it. And, if now or later in life, if anyone gives you a hard time about not being at snooty school, just ask when their school loans will be paid off . .. .

My 20th high school reunion demonstrated that you have to claim your own life and not be tied to high school visions of what constitutes grandeur.
`College life' has become something of an institution because it's a time when many people first start striking out on their own; but it's a huge mistake to confuse the cause and the effect. You will in fact manage to make great friends and fantastic experiences that you remember forever in your late teens and early twenties regardless of where (or whether!) you go to school. Everyone's process of gaining their independence and starting their adult life is going to be different, and it's going to be a fun, terrifying, dizzying experience for each and every one of them.

I went to a university for my undergraduate but stayed at home and somehow managed to have a great time; I stayed in a grad dorm one year in grad school, and I enjoyed it tremendously, but enjoyed the other years just as much...
(ok, following up on your own comment is lame, but forgive me...)

Another important thing is that you're learning an important lesson about growing up a little earlier than many of us do -- decisions are made, paths are chosen, and there will often be a little twinge of wondering about `what if' about the paths you didn't take. But each path has it's own adventures and rewards, and you can't really experience those unless you've committed yourself to the decision you've made. It's not a bad thing to frequently look around and make sure you're going in the right direction, but constantly staring wistfully at someone elses path means you're going to walk right past some of the coolest things on your own.
You will thank yourself for YEARS after college for not saddling
yourself with enormous debt. At the cc, like john dursi said, take advantage of any and everything of interest. Meet people and network. College is foremost about education, but if you're trying to get a particular kind of job afterwards, network like your life depends on it (with profs, other students, career office at school).

Also, I calculate that if you want a four-year degree, you will have to eventually transfer to a different school. Talk to the cc counselors (not sure what they're called at each school), about what kind of transfer relationships exist. At our cc, we have very good relationships with certain 4-years where those 4 year institutions accept almost all of our classes as transfer credit. Those 4 years are generally state institutions, so still affordable. In effect, students come out with a 4-year degree, having paid 2 at community college prices. Now that's $#*(#@ smart. And I bet a LOT more people are doing that kind of thing than you think.
A lot of what people mean by "college life" is a continuation of the worst aspects of high school compressed into a dorm environment where everyone gives each other the flu, mono, and (worst case) meningitis on top of all the cliquishness and clawing for social position. It also (depending on your HS and on your Uni) tends to be drunker and therefore correspondingly stupider.

Which isn't to say I didn't love my college experience. I did. Most of it. But as "life experiences" the dorms were somewhere in there with summer camp. I graduated from four years in the dorms with no idea how to get my own utilities or cook.

"Around here, people think that those who go to community college have a less than remarkable IQ and I can't even count the number of times people have remarked upon this in conversation with me."

That's how it was where I grew up. I was actually a little leery of teaching at a CC. But what I can tell you is that my CC students have spoiled me, because they work SO FRIGGIN HARD and they WANT to be there. Students don't go to CC because mommy and daddy insist on a prestigious college degree. They don't go to CC for a four-year bar tab. They go to CC because they are hard-working bootstrappers seeking to better themselves.

It's hard to even imagine going to work at the Name U across town where there's a lot of kids of the wealthy (smart, able to do the work) just marking time until they get real jobs.

Yes, I have some dingbats and low-wattage bulbs. But I also have single mothers dumped by their ex-husbands working their ASSES off to get a degree as fast as possible to support their kids. I have ex-military boys who call me ma'am. I have adults exploring career changes. I have kids who hit 25 and went, "Wow, working at McDonald's forever really ISN'T a good idea." And I have an awful lot of students like you -- and I think this is far more common where I am, in farm country, than in the suburbs -- who could write their own ticket if it were just a matter of brains, but who are dealing with family finances and other obligations and choose to do their first two years at the CC.

I would look them square in the eye and say, "Don't feel sorry for me. I am paying for college myself and pulling myself up by my bootstraps. I made this choice because my obligations to my family and my future are more important to me than a name brand and the debt that goes with it."

Bootstrapping is a fine American tradition. Be proud of yourself. And I rather suspect that you'll get a lot more life experiences (and far broader discussion) in a classroom with single moms, ex-military, adult career changers, etc., than you would in a classroom full of 18-year-old suburban kids.
I'm painting with a broad brush here but this is what I would advise for someone going to a CC:

Have firm goals. Even if you're not sure what you want to study, you can plan a course of study that allows you to eliminate options but still meets GE and lower division requirements. Try the hardest thing first and then move to other subjects if the most difficult one doesn't work out.

If you really want to save money on school, you have to get out as quickly as possible. Many of the people you go to school with will not be terribly committed - do not allow them to influence you. If you want to get out of college in a reasonable amount of time, you will need to sign a transfer agreement in the second year of your attendance. Start meeting with counselors your first semester at CC so you can plan a 2-year course of study that gets you to the transfer college with GE and all lower division courses finished. Some counselors advise you to "just finish the GE requirements" but that will kill you in the sciences and in any discipline which has a fairly rigid progression of classes. Read the catalog of both the CC and the college you plan to transfer to so you know what both sets of requirements. Some schools have "guaranteed" transfer agreements where if you complete a certain course of study and get a certain GPA they promise you a spot in your chosen major. This is extremely valuable as it makes admissions easier for you.

If you want to go to professional school, try to transfer to the most prestigious university you can. The place where you get your degree will matter a lot to Law / Medical / Graduate schools.

Manage your transfer year carefully. Many students from CC stumble during their first year after transfer to my university. This hurts their chances at professional and graduate schools because the most recent grades those schools see are those from your junior year i.e. your transfer year. Plan to kick it up a notch after transfer.

Finally, have a back-up plan if your transfer agreement does not guarantee you a spot at the college. I had a friend who wanted to be an engineer who went to a CC. The school she wanted to graduate from (San Diego State) told her that transferring would be no problem but put nothing in writing. When she finally applied to transfer, the major was impacted and she was not admitted. She had only applied to transfer to one school and had to wait a year to start the transfer process all over again with a different college. Unless you have a contract, have a back-up plan - apply to multiple schools.

If you really want the “college experience” with dorm life and all, do that at your transfer college. The other commenters here are right – life is what you make it.
I agree with jon dursi that a lot of the "college experience" is the having your independence, choosing what you want to do with your time. Think about what you want out of college and find a way to make it happen. Living with a stranger in a cramped space is really not all it's cracked up to be.

I disagree with most of the comments that are bashing SLACs and universities in order to justify your choice to go to a CC, though. I went to a local SLAC that wasn't very well known or highly ranked, but the profs were fantastic and I got a lot of personal attention. I took advantage of course exchange opportunities so that I would have more selection of challenging classes in my area of interest, but I ultimately ended up transferring to an ivy under the auspices of a special program. The ivy was fantastic and worth every penny in my opinion. I still got a lot of personal attention. My classes were all taught by professors and they were friendly and accessible. Some even invited me to lunch or hosted gatherings in their homes. We had graduate TA's for larger classes, but they weren't giving the main lectures. My experience at a SLAC had taught me how to negotiate the beaurocratic red tape and most of my classes were fantastic. The resources at opportunities that were available to me at the larger university compared to the SLAC were amazing. Also, the contacts that I made with professors and grad students have made a huge difference now that I am a grad student myself and I suspect they will continue to help me once I'm on the job market.

You should make the choices that are best for you and your development. If after 2 years at a CC, there is something particular that you are looking for, then you should try to go to a place that will offer it.
Following up on Ivory's comments, save EVERY syllabus and assignments for every course that you take, as if you need to appeal to get some credits to transfer, having that documentation will help you. It also doesn't hurt to develop relationships with your professors, so that if you need to appeal to get transfer credit the CC professor with whom you took the course can write a letter explaining how the course that they taught fulfills the requirement at the 4-year institution. I've done this for students who did their first year or two at my regional 4-year (living at home) and then transferred to the flagship university in my state.

I also want to second Ivory's advice about having firm goals about what one wants to accomplish at the CC.

While it's true that a student who chooses a CC (or who chooses to live at home while attending a 4-year institution) won't have an identical experience to a student who goes away to school at 18 (not the traditional "college experience"), if you transfer after your second year, you will get some of that traditional "college experience" without too terrible a transition AND you'll be in better shape academically and financially than many of your peers who went straight to the 4-year institution.
With all of that cogent advice, I'll start with a "me too". Not just for Dean Dad's comments, but for Kelly, Eyebrows, and Ivory as well. But there is enough to add that I might blog on this and post the link later. For now, some additional comments:

Roommates can be overrated. My freshman roommate was a major loser, worse than the average student I see at my CC. The best thing about him, as he took 2 years to fail algebra and calculus 1 enough times to flunk out, was that he went home every weekend to see his HS girlfriend. However, others from that time were great to get to know ... but you can meet those people your junior year.

I took calculus at a CC while in HS, then went on to be a math major in college. I did not lose a step, because an A meant the same thing in both places. Only thing I missed was the honors class, but later honors classes made up for that. Even better, my classmates were all a lot older than me, and being around highly motivated returning students was a great learning experience.

As an instructor, I frequently see kids who drank their way out of Wannabe Flagship U that is down the road. Their high SAT scores did not prepare them for studying while their roommates where partying. They often come into my CC expecting easier classes, and are shocked at the reality. Yes, I am sure there are mediocre CC's, but you can get a lot out of those by making your goal a 99 in every class.

Final story: I was once involved in an REU program and met a rising senior from a directional state university in the same state. Asked her why she did not attend Flagship State and she said ... that she had! She had a (typically) awful experience with foreign grad students teaching math (grad student lecturer, no faculty involved at all) and bailed. Got back on track at a CC where a retired Air Force officer taught calculus, and it was all downhill from there.
okay, well...I went to community college and I was going to say some stuff but I totally agree with kelly in kansas. I really liked the range of ages and experiences. And it is your life. People who would express pity that you're going to CC are either snobs or they think that means you aren't going to finish. On the latter, it is true that you'll need to focus on actually earning a degree. Lots of people at my cc took a few classes here and there and it never really came to anything.

On the other hand, those of us who did focus and who were planning to transfer were instantly favorites among professors. I had some great profs and I found them very supportive and enthusiastic about anybody who took their education seriously. There's a lot of potential for mentorship there, I think.

Also, while I commuted from home, lots of people lived together in crappy apartments and took the bus into campus. That means they had roommates and roommate experiences and lots of parties and did stupid stuff at 3am. Not only that, but because so many people commuted by bus, they cam to campus and were there all day long. maybe not five days a week, but you could always find people laying around the student union building or hanging out on the lawn. point is, there was a lots of time and opportunity to meet people. You can choose roommates, live with friends. And anyway, that's what lots of undergrads at the residential private uni I'm at now as a grad student do.
So many of you have made the most salient points, so I'll just jump in with a few "me too"s.

I went to a CC for two years and transferred to a small SLAC. When I got to my SLAC, I met lots and lots of other "Transfers" like myself. Dunno about all SLACs, but mine welcomed and supported transfer students. I spent two years living on campus, experiencing dorm life. To my mind, that's enough for anybody.

I suppose I have to join in on the defense of SLACs. I chose mine because it wasn't the big research university where you never saw your professor, nor was it the regional university where most of the students had lives outside of school (family, work, etc.). My SLAC gave me a place to belong, people to hang out with, and fabulous teachers who were available and supportive. My SLAC was well-known in certain circles, but is not exclusive by any stretch of the imagination.

I'm sure CCs vary, but mine was a fabulous experience. (I took great joy how shocked students from the local 4-year were when they chose to take a class at the CC. Plenty of people said our physiology class was much harder than the one at their school -- since we had a nursing school, I suppose they shouldn't have been surprised).

I agree with the suggestions to keep on track, focus, have a plan, etc. At the same time, I hope you'll try out a few different fields in your first year.

Finally, my impression (as an ancient 25-year-old, at the time) was that there was plenty of partying and school drama, if you wanted to find it. I strongly second the suggestions that you find ways to get involved. Edit a magazine, join a club and then administer it, whatever. I found that student government was a great place to meet driven, interesting people. (Whereas at the SLAC, I found student government to be another highschool-ish clique.)

Well. Now I think I've written quite a bit with out saying much. Bad habit.
Having graduated in May, I'm still caught in the afterglow of what was a really great experience at a 4-year college. I loved it, and I definitely consider my dorm experience immeasurably more valuable than "summer camp." Still, I'm inclined to agree with the comments here: you'll be able to make friends and really grow as a person no matter where you are, as long as you keep an open mind and are ready to learn from your environment. There are pluses and minuses to every type of institution.

I would like to point out, also, that attending a four-year institution and graduating without "enormous debt" are not necessarily mutually exclusive endeavors. I come from a low-income family and just graduated from an Ivy League university with a little over $11k debt, and it could have been less had I chosen to work more hours. Honestly, because my family is poor I probably had an easier time than some of my middle-class peers, since my university guarantees to "meet all demonstrated need." (It IS odd, however, to spend four years in an institution where the vast majority of people don't need to give a second thought to money issues.) Given your high-achieving record, if you're really having second thoughts about community college, you could definitely consider transferring to a 4-year institution with good aid/scholarship policies.
I really want to second the notion of getting an apartment with friends and commuting to campus. Some of my very best college memories are associated with one house I lived in that totally worked, and some of my worst are associated with an apartment that totally didn't. It's very idiosyncratic, but it's also very possible to, once you've met some people, go in together on a space near campus.

The only reason I've found to go to a four-year institution right off the bat is for the intense Engineering or Architecture instruction which can come at the best ones. If those aren't definitely your fields, you aren't necessarily losing much of anything academically by attending a CC and transferring.

Oh, and in defense of Big State U, once you hit junior year, you start seeing a lot more professors. Which is good news for the letter writer, I suspect.
I'm at prof at a highly competitive R1 university with a strong science/engineering focus.

I think CC's have a worse image in the eyes of the general public than us academics. I've seen many CC transfers do well (in fact, anecdotally speaking, I think on the whole they may do better than the 3-2 students I've dealt with, but that's another story).

Students go to CC's for a lot of reasons, and there are many bright CC students out there. When I was an undergraduate engineering major, at least 3 of my friends were CC graduates, and all did quite well both in school and 20 or so years after graduating.

As some of the posters said, the one thing to start doing NOW is to figure out which 4 year school you would like to finish your degree at. This may save you from "wasted" course hours that are needless or will not transfer for your 4 year degree. Many CC's have partnerships with programs at nearly 4 year schools to facilitate the proper course preparation. Oher than planning ahead, it sounds like you are pursuing the most pragmatic course of action for you at this stage in your life.
I have to join the small liberal arts college (SLAC) defenders here - I did the whole four year thing, and had a superb time, and see a host of my fellow alums to this day. The profs were accessible, the coursework was challenging, etc. I was one of those people who felt they had to leave the house at 18, and so chose a SLAC well away from home. I managed to do the four years for about five grand a year (serious scholarships - another trait of many SLACs) and paid off my loans in under five years.

I've heard it said by my peers that you can get all the SLAC-y goodness at a big school, but you have to work harder to find it.

I would assert that the small colleges outside the east coast region for the most part take themselves a little less seriously (less snoot per dollar spent), but I'm biased.
I'll second Professor Staff. I teach at a very good regional school (meaning 4-year degrees and MA programs), and a significant minority of my students are CC transfers. Some of them, yes, have pretty weak skills. But many of my *very best* students are CC transfers. Many started out there for financial reasons, or because they want/need to stay close to home, and they succeed both there and at my school. And there are others who *weren't* great students in high school, but who suddenly get set on fire by a particular subject or by school in general when they're at the CC and turn out to be amazing.

The thing is that people develop at different rates, and I'd bet you anything that some of your high school friends who are so pleased with their 4-year college acceptances will drop out or transfer elsewhere within a year; being away from home, having too much freedom, and not having much personal attention or guidance is deadly for many 18 and 19-year olds.

I should add, too, that at least some of my CC transfers elected to live on campus when they started here, so they'd get the dorm experience you're talking about and more easily integrate themselves into campus social life; I don't know if that's an option everywhere, but it's a possibility in some places.

Good luck!
Just to second everyone else -- look up the universities to which you plan to go. Look up the major you're planning, or anything you think you might want to major in. Plan your course progression to include the courses that *they* think a junior ought to have had, as well -- it varies by university. Don't -- don't -- don't let the counselor palm you off with 'Just get the gen eds done!'. It might work for some humanities -- I don't know, that's not my field. But if you're planning on science, math, engineering, or some such degree, you'll end up spending another four years if you don't get the basics out of the way. One of my students came in as a transfer having been told that by a counselor -- as a junior, this student was beginning a math major in College Algebra. This student is a fantastic student and really smart and taking a lot of concurrent registration which you're not really supposed to be able to do, but even so, will end up with at least 3 years after transferring, if not four.

In the defense of community colleges, I had completely dropped out of school, and was going back with the intention of applying for a nursing degree, when I ended up taking a class with a chemistry professor at a community college, who seemed to chemistry a lot and really wanted to share how much he loved chemistry with the students -- that was one of the turning points in my progression back to a 4 year school and, eventually, grad school.
Good answer and good comments. But at least in my experience, my experience at a SLAC within an R1 university (the College of the University of Chicago) was a key element in making me the person and scholar I am. Why? Challenging courses with professors who actually gave a damn about their students (not every course or every prof, of course), but also long conversations with my fellow students and time in the library. I learned about things I never knew existed back in high school, even if some of my dispositions seem to have been determined then or earlier. I'm eternally grateful that my father scrimped and saved to send me to the kind of school he never could have dreamt of as a high school student.

You can get the kind of challenges that stimulated me at any institution, though. Seek out the professors who have a reputation for being "tough" and visit them in office hours. Get to know some other students in each of your courses, and meet them for lunch or coffee or beer to talk about what you're reading, hearing, and doing in the course and whether it has any value. Talk to transfer coordinators at the 4-year colleges you're thinking about.

Many good SLACs package this stuff together so that you don't have to think much about it. But I know enough smart, dedicated, and interesting CC faculty and students to be sure that you can get a good education without breaking the bank.
First...I second what everyone else has said. ;-)

Second, don't be surprised if a lot of your friends who are so jonesed about going away to college don't actually show up at your CC later.

I went to a CC and was SHOCKED by the number of high-achieving HS kids who ended up sitting in class with me at the CC because they had either flunked out, bailed out, or ran for their lives. I recall one girl was rumored to have quit because she got homesick, so there she was at the CC until she could transfer into a local 4-year.

Like others, I chose a CC because we were poor and I had NO CLUE what I wanted to do in college. I eventually transfered to a Snooty Liberal Arts College, thrived there, and eventually got a Master's from an Ivy League.

Use the CC for what it is: a means to get a decent education subsidized by the government to prepare you for transfer to a 4-year school [unless of course you enroll in a 2-year degree or certificate granting program, which can be just as handy for a quick surge into the job market].
Hi! My undergrad was at a Big Urban Research University, one of the biggest, where the undergrads are treated like numbers and taught by TAs. I just wanted to pass on what one prof told us in orientation when I got there: "This place is what you make it. There are brilliant people who will work with you and help you have wonderful experiences, but you've got to make them. You can also coast through here and only take what you want from it and people will leave you alone, not asking too much from you. *You* will determine whether you have a hands-on or hands-off education."

I have a feeling that this advice --- college is what you make of it and what you put into it --- would be really helpful no matter what type of school you choose. I agree with all the others that there will be groups to get involved with and extracurricular activities and challenging teachers no matter where you go, you just need to seek them out.
People who teach at snooty U's generally get promotions and tenure by doing research, not teaching. CC profs generally get tenure by teaching. This means that when you need good teachers (i.e. your first couple of years) you'll get them at a CC. You are less likely to get them (not impossible, just less likely) at a snooty U.

My advise is to plug into the student grapevine and find the good, challenging teachers. They are out there and they want students like you. After teaching for a while at a CC, I've come to realize there are generally two reasons students are there.... either they have academic or financial restraints. Few students have a CC as their first college choice, but the smart students use their first college to get to their prefered college. Remember, the only diploma that counts is your last one --

My other advise is to look for ways to get transfer scholarships. I coached debate for my CC and I've had students get full-ride debate scholarships to transfer out... it takes some work, but it can be done.
You may want to print out and save a copy of these comments. It might be wise to re-read them when you get down the road a bit.

I went to an all-boys Catholic high school that probably sends 95%+ of its graduates on to higher education.

After that, I lived at home while attending a small liberal arts college. My friends mainly attended big universities out here on the Left Coast.

I got my bachelor's degree at small liberal arts college and my master's degree at big state university. I now teach at a community college, but I've also taught in K-12 and part-time at big state universities.

In general, I think there are many positives associated with community colleges. We have good teachers and bad teachers, like anywhere, but I believe that the way the educational system is configured, there tends to be a higher concentration of good teachers at the community college level than elsewhere. Smart K-12 teachers realize that they can make more money working less hours than in K-12, so we tend to attract some good talent from K-12. Too, when big state universities around here fly a position, they literally get hundreds of applicants, and inevitably the ones who teach well, but are less than stellar in the research & publication arena don't get hired. So we tend to get some good teachers that way, too.

When I reflect back on my graduate school days, I wondered why so few of my brilliant professors couldn't teach their way out of a wet paper bag. Now I know why... most of those guys were hired with minimal consideration of how well they taught. They were hired for other reasons.

If you do some research, I'm sure you can ferret out the good instructors at your CC and you can get two years of low-level requirements and general ed courses out of the way with some great instructors. After you transfer out and grab the bachelor's degree from where ever, the degree won't say that you spent the first two years of your college career at a local CC. And the back-story will be good: if you're smart, you'll probably have less debt than the vast majority of your fellow grads, which is a significant advantage.

If I knew then what I know now-- at age 40, I still have about $4K of student loans from graduate school (my loans and my wife's loans) to pay off; I paid off my undergrad loans about 10 years ago-- I would have bypassed small (but very expensive) liberal arts college and attended one of the many local CCs.

The one thing I'll recommend: if you can scrape together the money, do at least one semester abroad. A year would be better. Go to some place where you can experience life in a different culture.
not to be obnoxious but I have to respond to brian ogilvie. I don't think one needs to duplicate a SLAC at a community college in order for it to be worthwhile. your comment suggests that a SLAC (in your case embedded in an R1) is the gold standard. Those not lucky enough to go (apparently our parents didn't scrimp hard enough? I can't speak to that; my parents didn't give me a dime for college) should try to duplicate that with the limited resources found at cc. At least that's what I'm reading.

My response is to reiterate one of the things Kelly said and I seconded, which is that there are things you encounter at a CC that you can't get anywhere else. Things like having classmates your parents age. having classmates who are balancing school, work and their kids. existing in the context of a wide range of abilities.

I'm sure being at a SLAC made you who you are. having gone to CC made me who I am in ways that couldn't be duplicated at a SLAC. That's all I'm saying. Not to bash that manner of school but I have to object to it's being help up as a gold standard we should all try to duplicate.
the education you get may be similar (e.g., the content of physics and math courses is pretty standardized). So if you're planning to go to grad school it matters little where you did your undergrad. However, the peer group at a CC is quite different from MIT/caltech or the ivies. You will network with different people (it is unlikely you will know future politicians and CEOs if you don't go to an ivy). You will also have trouble getting into investment banking or consulting from a CC (no matter how good your grades or recommendations).
I would agree: the largest difference between a CC and a SLAC or Tier 1 Research U is the kind of social networking that happens outside of the classroom. Do students still get drunk and do stupid things at all three? Absolutely. But the odds of your drinking buddy being the son of an important lawyer or political heavyweight at, say, Columbia are higher than they would be at, say, Finger Lakes Community College. Is that such a terrible thing? Well, it depends on where you want to vacation...(I'm joking a little here, but I'm also a bit serious. Really, where you go to school determines who your friends are)

Academically, I would say you'll be just fine at a CC, but I agree with the other posters that you should keep long term goals in mind. I know of quite a few smart CC'ers who get sucked into the "local" bubble, and who never went on to 4 year schools.

I think the social situation isn't nearly as comparable as the posters here are implying, but there are certainly things you can get involved with. For example, you like to sing? At Yale, they have 13 student a cappella groups. If you go to a CC, you'll have to seek out an off-campus group (or start your own!). CC's don't have nearly the scope of clubs/orgs as a lot of 4 year schools, and the clubs and orgs that do exist suffer from really high turnover. This can be a positive thing, as it allows you to take on a leadership position right away.

All in all, I would advise this letter writer not to worry about all of the talk in her HS. CC's are a much different beast than SLAC's or State U's, and I don't think that denying that is the answer. You experience will be much different, but by no means less fulfilling. At the end of your two years, you can enjoy the University experience, and then hopefully on to graduate school!

Best of luck!
After reading all of the excellent advice (and even conflicting advice is good advice, because there is truth in all of it), I realized I had made a classic mistake: answering only the question that was asked.

Implicit in many of the comments about setting long term goals and making an effort to get the most out of your education are some of the things I put in an old article on Freshman Orientation. A real key to success wherever you go is realizing that college is very different from another year of HS and that you have you have to take a bigger role in your education.

PS to Kimmit: You can even get an intensive start to an engineering degree at the right CC. That kid at the Enormous State University who does the minimum acceptable work and forgets it all the next month will face a challenge from the CC grad who learned it all and retained it.
In my first year at community college. I would never have had the courage to take a history class at university, where it would have been "too hard," but I enrolled in American History at CC thinking it would be managable. Surprisingly, it was my favorite class, and I earned a 4.0.

Now I'm in the Honors Program in History at one of the top 12 universities in the country-- I have a 3.7 GPA in my major and I've done some really exciting research. I tell this story to anyone who has anything negative to say about CC's.
I am a little late weighing in but i read the letter and thought, that was me. I made the decision in my college career that not being in debt was more important than a 4 year school right away.. BEST DECISION I EVER MADE! I now teach at a community college in part because I beleive in the mission of a institution of higher learning that does not priveledge knowledge with a high price tag.

Make it a a great experience, only you can do that anyway!
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