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Community College Myth vs. Fact

Second-rate. Inferior. Last resorts. What do these words have in common? They are just a few of the terms that have been used to describe community colleges over the years. If the individuals uttering these words took a moment to look past the hearsay, however, they’d realize it’s high time to give community colleges another look…and some much-deserved credit.

In fall 2008, 44 percent of all undergraduates in higher education, or about 7.3 million students, were enrolled at community colleges. And this percentage is continuing to grow in spite of long-standing stigmas. Whether you’re considering taking some or all of your classes at a community college, here are a few myths about these institutes of higher learning we’d like to clear up once and for all:

Myth #1: Students go to community college because they weren't accepted by a four-year school.

Fact: There are many reasons students attend community colleges instead of traditional four-year colleges. Sure, a year or two in community college is necessary for some students to improve their grades and adjust to the challenges of a collegiate lifestyle but cost is one of the biggest incentives. According to the College Board, tuition and fees for public two-year schools averaged just $2,544 during the 2009-2010 school year – far less than the $50,000+ price tags of schools like UC Berkeley and Sarah Lawrence – which means students take out fewer loans and leave school with much less (if any) debt). Also, since schedules are much more flexible, even full-time community college students have the time to work while in college and save money without compromising their education. When all of these factors are paired with federal aid, scholarships and grants, students could go to a community college almost for free. Talk about the right way to manage your money!

Myth #2: If you decide to switch schools, very few credits will transfer.

Fact: Choosing the right classes is vital at any school but for community college students intending to transfer to a four-year school, it’s even more important. The best way to ensure the majority of your credits will transfer is to meet with an adviser or counselor prior to or during your first semester. By explaining your goals, your adviser can help you design the schedule to achieve them most efficiently; this can include guidance to the classes that offer the most credits to reviewing articulation agreements, which are negotiated documents that clarify what's needed to transfer from one school to another. By choosing the right classes before you transfer, you may even be ahead of students at your new school! Still curious about the transfer process? Check out our section on transferring for more specifics.

Myth #3: If it costs less to attend, the quality of education must be worse.

Fact: We touched on this while clearing up Myth #1 but let us elaborate: Attending a community college allows students to get far more bang for their educational buck. The classes are nearly identical and oftentimes, community college faculty members also hold teaching positions at other four-year colleges in the area. The woman teaching your history class could actually be the same professor educating your best friend at Big State College or Private U. across town...but you’re on a first-name basis with her instead of being just another face in a 300-person lecture hall. Community college courses aren’t just watered-down versions of the ones taught at traditional schools, either; in fact, this Washington Post article cited some classes are even more challenging because professors are motivated by their students, who often display more drive than their four-year counterparts.

Myth #4: All community college students are “grown ups.”

Fact: While a number if community college students return to school in order to gain additional training, switch careers or finish up a degree they had put on hold, don’t think all your classmates will have gray hair, three kids and first-person tales from the original Woodstock. It’s quite the opposite, actually: The American Association of Community Colleges reveals the average age of a community college student is 28 and just 16 percent of community college students are 40 or older. And don’t be surprised to see some even younger faces around campus because some community colleges allow middle and high school students who have outgrown the curriculum at their schools to audit or enroll in classes.

Myth #5: The degree you earn at a community college won’t get you as far career-wise as a degree from a four-year school will.

Fact: Excuse us for a moment while we laugh out loud because this assumption is just plain silly! Countless community college attendees have gone on to become household names in every sect of society. Who, you ask? There’s Oscar winners Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood, presidential candidate H. Ross Perot, fashion designer Calvin Klein, Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, astronauts James McDivitt, Eileen Collins and Fred Haise, MasterCard founder Melvin Salveson and the man responsible for many of our fondest childhood memories, Walt Disney. Your college experience is what you make of it regardless of where you go to school and these individuals certainly used every resource to their advantage!

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