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Why consider community college?

by Mary Mazzoni on March 16, 2013

When teens plan for college – there’s a lot to consider.

For starters, what is your child’s career goal? After all, college isn’t an end in itself. What education or training is needed for your child’s career of choice?

For many students, community college is an ideal path toward career goals.

Even if your child is working toward a four year degree, there can be real benefits to starting at a community college.

Skeptical? Take two minutes to watch this recent CNN video. I’ll wait.

Intrigued? Let’s dig deeper!

Earning power of associate degrees

Were you surprised that 28% of employees with an associate degree earn more than those with bachelor degrees? It’s true! And the trend is likely to continue in that direction as companies look for employees with targeted skill sets.

Check out this chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. Compare the median salary of Athletic Trainers to Cardiovascular Technologists, for example. A quick glance at the chart shows many other associate degree careers in healthcare that pay more than jobs requiring a bachelor degree.

Salary is not the sole factor in choosing a career. Still – let’s bust the myth that a four year degree always commands a higher salary than an associate degree.

Career guidance and networking opportunities

Most high school graduates lack an in-depth knowledge of career options. They may be unaware of the diversity of careers within their field of interest, or lack insight into labor market needs in their area.

Community colleges generally have a close working relationship with local businesses. Their mission is to prepare students for career opportunities. Often, local professionals serve as adjunct faculty.

Students who seek out opportunities for career counseling and internships, and those who seek career guidance from faculty, will gain insight and connections that can lead to informed career choices and potential job opportunities.

Career pathways

In many fields, there are pathways from careers that require an associate degree to those requiring a bachelor degree. Sometimes, it’s even possible to get started in a field with a non-credit certificate.

There are real advantages to this step-by-step career approach. Students who attain a credential and a job in their field while continuing their education are honing key skills and building their resume. They’re also developing relationships that can lead to career opportunities not accessible to those who go directly through a bachelor degree program.

In today’s job market, career networking and relevant work experience can make all the difference between two applicants with the same level of education.

What’s more? Some companies provide tuition assistance for relevant courses.

Less debt

Even if your child won’t begin a career until after attaining a bachelor degree, starting at a community college can dramatically reduce costs.

By working closely with community college counselors, your child can choose courses that can transfer to his or her four-year college of choice.

Tuition at the four year school will likely be at least three times more than community college. Not to mention the savings in room and board costs.

More gradual transition

The differences between high school and college are profound. Most first year students struggle to make the adjustment.

Starting postsecondary education at community college can help your child ease into increased responsibilities.

For example, 3 hours of out-of-class work is recommended for every hour of college class time. That requires self discipline and time management. A lot to expect from a teen adjusting to dorm life!

Class sizes at community colleges are typically smaller than those in freshman classes at four year schools. Generally, there is more opportunity for extra help and relationship with instructors.

If your child is living at home for the first year of college, you can monitor how s/he is coping with new demands. You’ll want to be sure to offer more independence than in high school, but you’ll also be able to suggest resources and strategies when your child needs support.

Avoiding SATs and ACTs

Not all four year schools require SATs and ACTs. But, most still do. And those hurdles can be difficult to clear.

The accommodations allowed by SAT and ACT may not align with those to which your child has become accustomed in high school. And the tests themselves may not be the best measure of your child’s ability to succeed in college.

SAT and ACT tests are not required for community college admission. And, after several successful semesters at community college, four year colleges will not require transfer applicants to take these tests.

HOWEVER – be advised that community colleges DO require placement tests before allowing students to enter certain credit courses required by degree programs. Most community colleges use either the Accuplacer or the Compass.

While still in high school, your child should ask the disability support office which test is used and how to prepare. Also – s/he should ask how to apply for placement test accommodations.

Look before leaping

There is great variance in the quality of community colleges. This article from CNN Money includes tips and research sites for evaluating the quality of community colleges.

And it’s critically important to thoroughly research the supports available at a particular two or four year school before making a final decision to accept admission. Here are some questions to get you started as you speak with disability support professionals at various colleges.

Expect community colleges to provide ”reasonable accommodations” in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. And community colleges often have tutorial support for students with and without disabilities. However, it’s important to understand that the individualized education provided in K-12 schools under IDEA is not required under ADA or Section 504, and will not be available at most colleges.

In future posts we’ll look at specialized college programs designed for students with disabilities that exceed legal requirements. These programs tend to be expensive, and this type of support is not available at community colleges.

Your turn

Once again, we’ve covered a lot of ground in one post. In the end, you and your child will need to decide what school is the best fit.

Have questions along the way? Please ask away in the comments section. We’d also love to hear your personal experiences, opinions and insights.

Has this post been helpful? Please share it with others. Thanks!

All the best to you and your child as you plan for the future!

You might also like these posts:

College Planning Checklists

For-Profit Colleges & Technical Schools – Buyer Beware

Career Research

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Judy Bass March 30, 2013 at 7:46 pm

I agree that for some students with learning differences, community college has distinct advantages: another year at home to mature and gain independence, and reduced cost, for example. However, at some community colleges, students who do not pass the Accuplacer or Compass placement tests can spend several semesters in non-credit bearing classes. This concerns me because I have seen many of these students drop out, thinking they can’t “do college,” when, in fact, they were just in the wrong college. Sometimes a 4 year college with very strong learning support services or a comprehensive support program will serve these students better in the long run, even if the cost is higher initially.

I had two students (at different community colleges) who were unable to earn their AA degrees, even with enough credits, because they could not pass the math Accuplacer, yet in the next county, a student in the same situation was allowed to move ahead after taking the remedial class twice and the Accuplacer twice, even without passing the Accuplacer. All of these students went on to earn 4 year degrees (although it took a little longer than 4 years), despite their math disability.


Mary Mazzoni March 31, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Judy – Thanks so much for your comment! I completely agree! Thorough research is essential.

The post includes a link to a list of sample questions to ask disability support staff at any college a student is considering.

As you mentioned, it’s critically important to understand the specifics of a school’s support services – in relation to the student’s unique needs.

These college planning checklists may also be helpful.

Because every student’s needs are unique – these sample questions and planning checklists are just a start. The college search surely must be tailored to the student’s particular needs and goals.

Thanks so much for contributing so much to the conversation.

All the best to you and the students you support!


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