Why I love community college

Community colleges are an oft-overlooked resource for cheap education. They offer classes from trained professionals and provide access to expensive equipment that you otherwise would never be able to use. I love community college for several of reasons:

  • Affordability — Community college classes are affordable. Despite recent tuition increases, a class at Portland Community College costs about $200. Community education courses (non-credit classes) cost even less. Some employers will pay for classes; my business will pay for one class per employee per term. If your employer doesn't have a similar policy, ask!
  • Facilities — Community colleges have facilities and practical training unavailable at most universities. My local community college has a wood shop, an automotive shop, and quality darkrooms. Many students take classes simply for access to the facilities. A typical woodworking class is self-directed — you decide what your project is, and then have open access to expensive equipment and an instructor willing to help you use it.
  • Instructors — Community college classes are generally taught by real professionals from the field. When I learned computer programming, my classes were taught by instructors who wrote code every day for actual employers. (One of my instructors also taught at Portland State University — she taught the exact same courses at Portland Community College for a quarter the cost.) When I take photography classes, I'm being taught by active professional photographers. One of my writing instructors was Craig Lesley, a prominent Northwest author.
  • Networking — Community college classes allow you to network with instructors and students, making valuable contacts in your hobby or profession. I took photography classes at the community college for a couple of years, and the contacts I made in these classes continue to benefit me: I can e-mail my former instructors with questions and ideas; I trade photography equipment with other students; I get to watch as certain students make the leap from amateur to professional. I'm currently in a writers group with a former instructor. Some students land jobs through the contacts they make in class.
  • Convenience — Community colleges are aware that they serve a large population of students seeking continuing education. They try to make their classes as convenient as possible. I've taken night classes in computer science, writing, photography, algebra, Spanish, and business management. I've taken weekend classes in application design. I've taken late-afternoon classes in assembly language programming. Community colleges make it easy to get additional education.
  • Education — Most importantly, community colleges act as a safety net for those who need an education. Some kids aren't ready for high school. Others aren't ready for college. Community colleges are there to help those who have realized the value of an education and are looking to correct mistakes they've made in the past. Even adults in mid-career can use community college courses to change their focus. After eighteen months of community college computer programming courses, I landed a job hacking C++ for an environmental engineer.

When I was in high school, I made fun of the local community college. You'd never catch me going to such a place. No, instead I went to a fancy private institution where yearly tuition cost as much as a nice car. And while I was earning my degree from this fancy private institution (which I love, by the way — don't get me wrong), I made fun of the local community college. That was a place for losers. I'm older now, and wiser.

Over the past fifteen years I've attended a score of community college courses. Only one (small business management) has been a dud. Oftentimes on AskMetafilter, a user will post a question like “How can I improve my photography skills?” or “I want to get better at programming for cheap” or “What's a good way to learn woodworking?” My answer is always: sign up for a class at the community college.

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bluehole
bluehole
14 years ago

I’m with ya, man, not only because I make my living as commcoll faculty, but because I truly believe in the mission. I wish my parents/friends hadn’t mocked the system when I was a teen because it would have been the perfect environment for me to do my first two years. Instead, completely burned out, uninterested in school, and without direction, I moved out of my parents’ house and started working full-time, at just above minimum wage, which at the time started with a 3. I should have taken a class here and there while working before choosing a college… Read more »

A D
A D
14 years ago

I flat out disagree. As someone who is stuck in a community college right now, I can tell you that the classes offered here are awful, the teachers are bad, and I’m going to lose a lot of credits when I finally do transfer to a university. Go to a college, cc sucks

Ari D.
Ari D.
14 years ago

A D must live in a bad state because I attended community college my first two years here in Illinois, and I transferred as a Jr to a university debt free with all my credits.

adam
adam
14 years ago

umm community college is good in some ways but you dont get the full college experience like living in dorms and living on your own. all the kids that go to cc live at home like me. i feel like im missing out on my college experince. all my friends are out having fun and im stuck at home doing reading homework. but i can see the goods of cc but i think it kind of sucks..sorry

JB
JB
13 years ago

there are pros and cons to community colleges, but overall i think the pros outweigh the cons. i did CC when in my Sr. year of HS.

the CC in my town was very small, but had good instructors. the CC didn’t have a lot of diversity, but treated all students fairly.

i think the thing i got out of CC was just an opportunity to think on a higher plane than HS offered.(small town, small town HS, small town mindset) i got classes out of the way that cost significantly more at uni than at CC.

Regina
Regina
13 years ago

Thanks for writing this article! I am completely happy with my education from community college and even though “I missed out on the freshman experience,” I transferred and graduated from a top 25 nationally ranked university. My friends who went to community college with me also transferred and are going to go to medical school for the next year. They used their community college classes as prerequisites that needed to apply. Who says you can’t succeed if you went to a cc? 🙂

JenK
JenK
13 years ago

Coming in late, but – Adam – GROW UP. Living at home and going to CC the first few years will save you THOUSANDS of dollars even BEFORE interest. Or do you really have ten or twenty thousand to throw away? I paid my CC years out of what I was making at a day care center, and my wage started at $3.50/hr…. Yes, transfer to a 4-year school if you need or want a Bachelor’s degree. If you read the fine print when you started CC (aka went to an accredited CC with good xfer policies) you should not… Read more »

CS
CS
13 years ago

I agree with Adam. If you’re like me and you’ve been looking forward to going to college since middle school, only to have that taken away from you due to lack of financial aid–it does suck. Face it: the best part of going to college is not only the opportunity to learn more but to interact with new people as well, and a CC doesn’t offer that level of social interaction or feeling of family.

Ashley
Ashley
12 years ago

As a current CC student, I agree to an extent with everyone. I started CC as a running start student in my 10th grade of high school. This allowed me to get a year and a half (could have been two if I hadn’t been lazy) of college courses for free! It’s been said that cc doesn’t offer the quality education you would get at a university, however that isn’t entirely true. There are courses that have been less than stellar, but hell, they were free. Overall I think I’ve received a pretty good 2 year education (an Associate’s degree)… Read more »

Stan
Stan
12 years ago

I agree with the article. I am a student who went to a traditional four year school for engineering for the first semester and transferred to a 2 year. I’m finishing all of the general education classes (the ones I don’t care about) for a quarter of the cost, and transferring back, where I’ll pay the money for the quality degree-specific courses. It takes a lot of work, and you have to get used to reading the fine print and contacting the people yourself, but it’s worth it; you also become more independent throughout the process. The practical arts classes… Read more »

Pilar
Pilar
12 years ago

I went to a cc & agree with many of the comments here, now I teach at a CC & am an advisor for an Honor Society.

But while at a cc join their Honor Society, if you qualify. Phi Theta Kappa offers members a network of colleges that provide great transfer scholarships totaling over $36million to 4 year institutions (wish I heard about them though when I was attending).

Gena
Gena
12 years ago

I fully support and appreciate Community Colleges. Now, if you are 18-19 I understand that you can miss the initial social aspect of the first semester. But I have to say hugging the ceramic bowl of grace & ralphing in the toilet after a party gets old quick. The CC system was the only way for me to re-enter college after having to drop out of a university because I couldn’t afford it. I returned to college as an older adult who knew that for things to get better I needed to invest in education. I would also say that… Read more »

Joonas
Joonas
12 years ago

Usually you don’t start major classes till about your 3rd year of college so it makes a lot of sense to go to CC for the first two years, get the mandatory electives out of the way and transfer to a 4 year school after that. No one cares where you went to school for english 101 or 102, or some basic math course.

MKL
MKL
12 years ago

As an older and hopefully wiser person, and having had experiences with three different CCs over a 15 year period, as well as a 4 year institution and a University extension, I wholeheartedly agree with the idea of Community Colleges being terrific resources for those that want to focus on economizing and getting prerequisites out of the way. Are there benefits to going to a 4 year institution right off the bat? Certainly, depending on what you hope to get out of it. If the focus is to have yourself (or your kids) get the requisite knowledge and degree to… Read more »

Regina
Regina
12 years ago

It seems that a lot of the people who are knocking community college are people who are still going through it right out of high school. Trust me, it’ll be okay! I felt frustrated at that point too, but keep focused on your goals. (Honors programs are fantastic, but you can make it even if you’re not involved in one. Just take the right courses and keep a decent GPA. Check desired 4-year schools early for minimum GPA requirements for transfers.) If you really want that dorm experience, you can have it. Just transfer to a school and stay in… Read more »

John
John
12 years ago

Like others have said, CC has its pros and cons. I transferred to a CC my sophomore year and there is a significant drop of workload and extensiveness in 100 and 200 level courses. It is truly dumbed down especially in my major – Philosophy and Sociology. Remember, CC was catered to those who are NOT ready for a four year college or for returning students. There are some students who are exceptions, but they are the outliers. Classes, at least in my departments in my CC, were made to be easy. . .too easy; I did not feel that… Read more »

Brian
Brian
11 years ago

I agree the stigma of community colleges are that they are a low-level institution that are a sort of last resort for continuing education.

Bouncing to and fro community colleges and universities, I can say that my experience has been that I have learned a lot more from community colleges than the actual universities. The teachers seemed to care more about students passing their classes and were passionate about the subjects they taught.

This is not to say that all professors at universities aren’t great teachers, but the ratio was distinctive from my experience.

Anne
Anne
11 years ago

I agree with John from August 28th post. I have a two-year degree with a very high GPA from Portland Community College and just went back to take pre-nursing and anatomy classes.

The biology department and instructors are a chaotic mess! They can’t decide on a system and change the criteria and format of their classes every term. The quality of the education in this dept. at this particular CC is horrendous.

It is NOT worth the couple of hundred bucks you save to lose your GPA and learn absolutely nothing by being part of their curriculum experiments.

Anonymous
Anonymous
10 years ago

Right now I am at a community college, and let me tell you something, IT SUCKS! This is what happens when you don’t really care and worry about your academics in high school, you end up winding up in remedial classes in high school and it will make you add 2 extra years to transfer to a 4 year institution and you will miss out on all the great fun things that a 4 year institution has to offer, including many fun school clubs/organizations, sororities/fraternities, lively campus atmosphere and all the other perks that a 4 year institution has to… Read more »

Sophie
Sophie
7 years ago

I agree with the ‘Anonymous’ commenter above. Although Community College’s are great for learning practical skills and are cheaper than universities, they often fall short of meeting goals because of the impacted campuses they deal with. At my cc I pay $46/unit (which is okay) except I’m lucky if I can squeeze myself into one single class. Who gets priority registration? Athletes. I am a student parent who is depending on transferring in order to start my career and support my child, but my counselor says I should “join a sport to get priority.” Excellent. With all the free time… Read more »

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