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What to Expect at a Community College

June 27, 2013

What to Expect at a Community College

by Carly Gerber

During the summer before my sophomore year of college, I knew I wasn't going back to the college I had been attending. It was too late to apply to a four-year university so I decided to attend a community college before entering a new university. From my experience, here's what you can expect while attending a community college:

  • Academics: Many students enter community college thinking it will be academically easier than a four-year college...but that couldn't be further from the truth. Community colleges are academically rigorous and the professors expected to see all your effort in your work. And if you need help, they have the right resources: My community college offered a writing center and a tutoring center, both of which I visited regularly.
  • Personal Life: A few students I met were balancing jobs, school and families. That’s obviously a lot of work but if students attended classes, did their homework and communicated with professors about their circumstances, many instructors were willing to work with the students to help them pass the class.
  • Community: Despite being part of the name, many students don’t think there will be a sense of community at community colleges. But there is! There were a number of sports teams and student organizations with lots of participation at my school. Plus, the college would have events going on during the school day, like a game of Jeopardy! that would bring students together and lighten the mood on a particularly stressful day.

Overall, I enjoyed the community college experience because it helped me grow both as a student and as a person. For those students who have also attended community colleges, how would you rate your experience?

Carly Gerber is majoring in journalism at Columbia College Chicago. She loves fashion and hopes to cover the topic for a Chicago-area magazine. In her free time, she focuses on her blog, loves making jewelry and spending time on Pinterest and Pose. She hopes to use this blog to guide and relate to its followers: college students like herself!

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Survey Shows Students Know Too Little About College Aid

October 22, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Can college students correctly answer basic questions about federal student financial aid? Researchers from CALPIRG, the California Public Interest Research Group, sought to find out, asking California community college students three questions about financial aid. The results of the survey were published this week. The majority of students did not do so well, with over half of students answering one or zero questions correctly.

How would you do? Students were asked to say whether the following three statements were true or false (the questions below are paraphrased from the report):

  1. I have to go to school full time to be eligible for financial aid.
  2. Taking more classes per term could increase my financial aid award.
  3. Financial aid can be used to cover expenses beyond tuition and fees, such as living expenses.

The answers:

  1. False. You do not have to go to school full time to be eligible for financial aid. Students enrolled at least half-time are able to apply for and receive federal student financial aid, including Pell Grants and Stafford Loans. Only 47 percent of students surveyed answered this correctly.
  2. True. If your tuition goes up, your aid award can go up, especially when it comes to federal work-study and low-interest student loans. Additionally, students who move from half-time to three-quarter-time or full-time enrollment can see an increase in Pell Grant awards and also potentially become eligible for more college scholarships and grants. Half of students answered this correctly.
  3. True. Financial aid can be used to cover college expenses including food, rent, car maintenance, books, computers, and other essentials. These items are included in the living expenses portion of the cost of attendance figure used by the financial aid office to calculate your aid eligibility. Students surveyed did the best on this question, with 54 percent answering correctly.

Knowing About Aid Can Boost College Success: At this point, it's becoming fairly well-documented that not enough community college students apply for federal student financial aid, despite the fact that many are eligible. While some students don't apply because their schools do not participate in federal aid programs, others don't apply because they don't know they're eligible for aid. The results of the CALPIRG survey suggest that this is a fairly substantial group of students. Namely, 13 percent of students surveyed didn't get a single question right, 44 percent of students answered only one question correctly, and only 2 percent of students who did not apply for aid got all 3 questions, compared to 10 percent of students overall.

Additionally, the survey shows that many students are loan-averse, with almost half of students saying they would drop a class or an entire semester than take out a student loan to cover books or other expenses, and students showing nearly as much willingness to put their books on a credit card than to take out a federal loan for books.  A full 57 percent of surveyed students saying they would only borrow as a last resort or would not borrow for college at all. With additional research suggesting that many community college students are not balancing work and college effectively and that their reluctance or inability to borrow is hurting their chances of graduating, more financial aid education is important.

Community college students are not the only college students who may need help learning about financial aid. If you found that you answered one or more question incorrectly, you may want to review information about paying for school. We have a wide variety of student resources available that can help you learn about financial aid programs and requirements and maximize the amount of aid you receive.

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2008 College Enrollment Set New Record

October 30, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Is it feeling crowded on campus? It should be, according to new research. A Pew Research Center report released this week shows that in 2008, colleges experienced record enrollments, and early estimates indicate that 2009 enrollments may break the newly minted records for 2008.

Nearly 40 percent of young adults ages 18-24 were enrolled in college in October 2008, up from the previous record of 38.9 percent set in 2005. About 8 million young adults, or 27.8 percent, were enrolled in four-year colleges, representing a slight increase from 2007. However, community colleges have seen an enrollment boom, with their numbers swelling from 3.1 million students, or 10.9 percent of the young adult population, in 2007 to 3.4 million students, or 11.8 percent of young adults, in 2008.

A large part of the enrollment increase is attributed to the growing size of high school graduating classes, with the nation graduating the most students in 2009. This likely accounts for the growth in numbers overall, but something else may be contributing to the increase in community college enrollment. For that, most people are pointing to the recession, which encouraged students who may not have otherwise attended college to enroll, while pushing other college-bound students to explore less expensive options.

Giving further evidence to this theory is the decline in employment among young adults. In 2008, only 50.4 percent of young people aged 16 to 24 were working, compared to 52.7 percent in 2007. However, while more trouble finding work may have encouraged some students to consider attending college, it also has likely created a problem paying for school for many students. A large number of community college students tend to rely on income from work to pay their tuition, as opposed to applying for financial aid or student loans.

Based on enrollment increases for 2008 and anecdotal evidence of continued enrollment booms in 2009, it appears students are still finding ways to fund their educations. Still, students applying to college for 2010 may want to take note of these numbers and begin the college application process and scholarship search early just in case.

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Student Engagement in Community Colleges

November 18, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Last week, we blogged about the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), an annual report on students at four-year colleges and universities. The survey provided information about everything from academic advising to study habits at participating schools. This week, its community college counterpart was released, and for students deciding whether to save money by starting at a two-year school, that data might be useful, as well.

The Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSE) is conducted annually by the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas at Austin. This year, more than 400,000 student from 663 institutions participated. Engagement is regarded as serious concern at community colleges, as they tend to have a less clearly-developed sense of campus community as four-year schools and also have a far greater portion of part-time students and faculty.

Part-Timers and Engagement

The survey found that 60% of students were attending community college part-time, and that significant portions of students were taking night classes and online courses. Coming to campus less often, coming to campus at night, and having primary learning experiences take place off-campus can all result in less engagement among community college students. As a result, part-time students and students who work more than 30 hours a week are some of the least-engaged students on campus. Male students and traditional-age students were also among the least engaged students.

Study skill courses, orientation, learning communities, and developmental courses can all boost engagement. Interaction with students and faculty outside of class are also signs of a more engaged student body. Just under half of students currently engage in group activities in class, and just under two-thirds ask questions or contribute to class discussions, yet a small minority engage with instructors or peers outside of class. More faculty engagement and more programs to encourage student interaction may help.

Student Services and College Goals

Community college students and faculty recognize the role of student services, such as tutoring and advising, in promoting college success, but the numbers of each who participate in such activities are much lower than the numbers who view them as important. Few faculty members, especially part-timers, meet with students outside the classroom at least once a week, and few students regularly take advantage of advising or other services. This could partially explain the continued disparity between students' college goals and actual degree attainment.

A full 73 percent of students listed transferring to a four-year college or university as a goal they had when choosing to attend a community college, and 80 percent of students listed obtaining an associate degree as a primary or secondary reason for attending. Yet actual rates for both are much below the goals.

If you're considering attending a community college, the key seems to be to get involved and actively seek out help. Form study groups and talk to your instructors outside of class. Set and attend academic advising appointments to keep yourself on track for graduation and keep you informed of the next steps you'll need to take in your education. Also, consider applying for financial aid to reduce your need to work and allow you to more fully appreciate what your college has to offer.

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Zombies Used to Promote Alternatives to Four-Year Colleges

November 20, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Two Chicago-area community colleges are using zombies to urge students to consider their options before applying solely to four-year schools. Harper College and Elgin Community College, with some help from email provider Abeedle.com, are using a cartoon short featuring fictional high school seniors Lynette and Theo in a common predicament among the college-bound: to save money, or not to save?

In the short, Lynette goes to community college, is free of student loan debt, and uses the money she saved to become a filmmaker and purchase a sporty convertible. Theo, on the other hand, chooses the four-year university, and is depicted wandering around with the other "college zombies," saddled with a large amount of debt.

This isn't the first time the zombie hype has hit college campuses. The University of Florida recently posted a zombie preparedness plan on its e-Learning website, alongside more likely disaster scenarios. But this is a unique way to address the high costs of higher education and invite students to examine all of their options when considering where to go to school.

Enrollments at community colleges have increased by about 25 percent over the last year, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. The big decisions aren't only about filling out those college applications, but figuring out how you're going to pay for tuition at your intended school. If you're concerned about how you're going to cover the costs, consider a community college where you'd be able to complete your general education requirements and then transfer to a four-year college if you want that traditional college experience. Many community colleges and trade schools specialize in certain fields, so narrow down your college choices by your intended field of study, as well.

If you know community college isn't for you, there are other ways to save. Compare the costs of in-state versus out-of-state tuition. Depending on your home state, you could still go to a state university that is far enough away that you get that "away at college" experience, while still enjoying the perks of in-state tuition. (In-state tuition is often half that of out-of-state tuition. Do the numbers!) Whatever you do, don't assume that college is out of your reach because of the costs. While paying for college can take some creativity and persistence, it can be done, especially if you have some scholarship money padding that financial aid package.

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Study Shows Students' Troubles in Reaching "Gatekeeper Courses"

December 3, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

A new study surveying community college students in Virginia shows that more attention should be paid by those schools, and perhaps at schools across the country, in making sure students are getting the proper guidance when making course decisions and are being placed in the appropriate classrooms.

The study, from the Community College Research Center at Columbia University's Teachers College, tracked more than 24,000 students entering Virginia's community colleges in 2004. It found that most of those students never completed, or even reached, the important "gatekeeper courses" necessary to complete most fields of study. Gatekeeper courses are typically prerequisites that students must take - and pass - before moving on to more advanced courses that may have more to do with their intended degrees. These are considered the fundamental college courses, often in subjects like math and English, that often make up general education requirements at four-year institutions. Most of those students surveyed never made it past the remedial courses they were placed in when their academic records suggested core courses would be too intense for their first semesters on campus.

Academic credit is usually not awarded for remedial coursework. A long-standing criticism of remedial courses has been that the classes do little in the way of preparing students for college-level work. The study found mixed results on the issue. Students who were placed in remedial courses and completed them did just as well in the gatekeeper courses as those who didn’t need remediation, but the researchers suggest getting rid of remedial courses would be a mistake. Instead, students should take remedial courses at the same time as gatekeeper courses, to use what they learn in remediation in courses that may be more difficult for them.

So what kind of supports do community college students across the country need in place? Schools should consider having additional supports for those targeted for remediation. While those students may need more help in terms of developmental coursework, they should also be introduced to college-level coursework as soon as possible, as the study found that students who needed multiple remedial courses rarely reached the gatekeeper courses.

Schools should also maintain the financial supports many community college students rely on to attend those institutions. The new NBC comedy "Community" plays with the idea of a stereotypical community college and stereotypical community college population, but the reasons college-bound students choose two-year schools are much more complex, and often not as funny, than the show allows. Most often, cost considerations and personal responsibilities come into play when students are considering alternatives to four-year schools in their college search. If you're planning on attending a community college for your post-secondary education, make sure you and your study skills are prepared for the rigors of a college education just like any traditional four-year student so that you're successful, and that you know of the financial aid options available to you to pay for that education.

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Graveyard Shift Courses Grow in Popularity at Community Colleges

December 9, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

You've already heard about rising enrollment rates at community colleges as many across the country look to make themselves more desirable job candidates in a tough economy by returning to school. But you may not know how some of the two-year schools have been accommodating the large numbers of students flooding their campuses: courses offered at midnight.

Typically offering classes between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., some community colleges have found modest success by offering midnight course offerings to those who were shut out during an overcrowded registration process or whose day jobs and lifestyles conflict with sessions within more traditional time frames. An article in Inside Higher Ed today takes a look at Clackamas Community College's "graveyard welding classes," courses that run from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. in both introductory and specialized welding. The classes made their debut last spring with two classes offered, but their popularity caused administrators to offer them four times a week this fall. The classes were the idea of an adjunct welding instructor who compared the classes to early welding jobs where he would stay at manufacturing shops until 2:30 in the morning, often later (or earlier, depending on how you look at it).

The College of Southern Nevada will offer six classes from midnight through 1:30 a.m. next semester. The Community College of Allegheny County will offer welding classes similar to those at Clackamas this spring. Bunker Hill Community College started offering two graveyard shift classes this fall that start just before midnight and go until 2:30 a.m. Administrators say that the classes, introductory courses in English and psychology, were successful enough that they will both be offered next semester, along with an introductory sociology course.

An opinion piece in Inside Higher Ed last fall from one of the instructors at Bunker Hill criticizes the need for courses at such an unorthodox hour. Courses there were already being offered through 10 p.m., which wasn't enough. Two thirds of the writer's class enrolled in the late course because all of the day, evening, and weekend classes were full, making it difficult for students to move forward in their programs and meet course requirements. The writer went so far as to call it a "national nightmare."

"Actually give these institutions enough money so that there are professors and classroom space before midnight? No one is really talking about that – and students are being denied sections in massive numbers, nationwide this year," the Bunker Hill instructor Wick Sloane wrote.

As even President Obama continues to urge more students back to college, and with more of an emphasis on community colleges to absorb those rising enrollment numbers, midnight courses may be here to stay.

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High School Students Get a Jump on College with Dual Enrollment

December 15, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

A growing number of high school students are considering their options outside of Advanced Placement courses when it comes to pursuing early college credit. More are now looking into dual enrollment courses at community colleges to pad their academic resumes and get a taste of college life before they graduate high school. Some high schools have even begun offering fewer AP offerings in favor of partnering with community college programs.

An article in The State Journal-Register today explores the options available to students across Illinois. Nearly 1,900 high school students are currently taking courses online and on campus at Lincoln Land Community College, according to the article, and many are foregoing the typical high school experience of proms and pep rallies in favor of a preview of the college experience. Most of the courses are general education requirements students would take their freshman year. One student quoted in the article said she enrolled in college classes while in high school so that she will be able to work as a certified nursing assistant while going to college after her high school graduation.

We see value in both options. Dual enrollment at a community college may help prepare high school students for the college experience, giving them the confidence they need to excel that first year. There also won't be an AP exam to take at the end of your course, putting less pressure on students who may not be the best test-takers. (Most colleges require that you get a score of 3 or better on an AP exam to receive credit for the course.) Your academic transcript will also be more impressive when you're ready to apply to college, and you could be looking at a shorter, and subsequently less expensive, college experience. (This last point could be a good or bad thing, depending on your perspective.)

But AP courses aren't bad either. If you do well on your AP exams, you could be saving thousands of dollars on college costs because you’ll be testing out of those basic general education requirements. While you won't be taking classes on a campus, the rigors of AP courses could still help you prepare for college and the study habits you'll need to succeed after high school. If your school offers both dual enrollment and AP classes, consider all of your options to find the program that will work best for you, and you may be drawn toward one over the other.

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Community College Enrollment is Growing

December 18, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

If you're a student at a community college, you may have noticed campus has been a lot more cramped lately. Anecdotal reports of students flocking to community colleges have been steadily rolling in over the course of the last couple years. But now a study by the American Association of Community Colleges has numbers to back up these reports. It appears enrollment is up at community colleges nationwide, especially among full-time students.

Nationwide, full-time enrollment at community colleges is up 24.1 percent since 2007, with overall community college enrollment increasing 16.9% over the same period. Enrollment increases are most pronounced in the Rocky Mountains region of the country, where overall enrollment has climbed 36% between 2007 and 2009. In most regions, full-time enrollment increases have significantly outdistanced increases in part-time enrollment. Considering the majority of community college students traditionally attend part-time, this represents a dramatic shift for schools and a greater drain on resources.

Several community college systems have had to cap enrollment, while many others have effectively done so, as they have more students interested in enrolling in classes than they can accommodate. Over 34 percent of respondents to the AACC survey reported that they believed some potential students had been turned away due to capacity issues. Some schools are adding "graveyard shift" sections of classes to try to find room for all of the students who are interested in taking classes. Others, including administrators interviewed by Inside Higher Ed, reported reshuffling administrative and classroom space to try to accommodate more students.

It appears this enrollment boom has not come at the expense of more costly private colleges. Several private schools are reporting that early enrollments for the most part are either flat or up, as compared to last year. Based on these and other reports, it appears college admissions and financial aid may be even more competitive this year than last. If you're planning to attend college next year, whether it's a community college, state college, or private college be sure to meet application deadlines for admission and financial aid, and apply well ahead of deadlines if possible. You may also want to look at broadening your college search and applying for a couple extra schools to maximize your chance of getting in and winning scholarships.

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States Explore Changes to Community College Systems

December 29, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Community colleges are enjoying a growth in enrollment numbers like never before. Nationwide, full-time enrollment at community colleges is up more than 24 percent over the last two years. The American Association of Community Colleges suggests the economic recession has led to more adults returning to college and improving upon their skills, or learning new ones. And the community colleges themselves are taking notice and planning for the future as their institutions become increasingly important on the higher education landscape.

In California, lawmakers are considering allowing the state's community colleges the authority to award bachelor's degrees, a move that is already in practice in 17 other states across the country. In Florida, for example, a number of community colleges offer nursing and teaching bachelor's degrees to address shortages in those fields across that state and, more generally, a shortage in college-educated residents. (Community colleges typically offer two-year associate degrees and certificates for a number of different professions.) While California's community college administrators agree the move would be a good one at a time when the state's four-year institutions are overcrowded and, many students say, overpriced, the state would need to budget it doesn't really have at this time to cover the costs of new programming. According to an article in the Contra Costa Times recently, California's community college system consists of 110 schools and nearly 3 million students. The campuses are also already overcrowded, according to state administrators.

Meanwhile, in Tennessee, lawmakers are looking to introduce proposals that would have the state's 13 community colleges working more closely together with the state's four-year institutions. One plan would make it much easier to transfer credits from community colleges to four-year schools, something that has been a problem among students transferring after two years on the community college level. Legislators also hope to raise the state's graduation rates from both two- and four-year schools by offering remedial classes solely on the community college level rather than at four-year institutions and coming up with a broad curriculum that would remain the same across the board at all of the state's community colleges.

In Florida, the state administrators say is the best example of how a community college system should work, the graduation rate from the two-year schools is about 30 percent, the highest out of anywhere in the country. According to an article today in The Tennessean, this is thanks to how easy it is to transfer credits in Florida between two- and four-year schools. Indiana and North Carolina are also moving to similar models, making community colleges more "feeders" to four-state private and public universities rather than independent entities that only award associate's degrees.

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