Community colleges serve an important role in the higher education spectrum. Unlike four-year public universities, which tend to be larger and funded by the states, community colleges are local institutions, usually funded by city and county taxes, and typically offer the equivalent of two years of college education. Community colleges are sometimes known as two-year colleges for this reason. Though many students may hesitate to pursue higher education at an institution that does not offer four-year degrees, there are actually many benefits to beginning one’s college career at a community college.
First of all, community colleges are typically much less expensive to attend than universities. While universities have larger, more all-inclusive infrastructures and focus on building impressive buildings and hiring elite faculty, community colleges save money by keeping it simple. Most community colleges focus on teaching basic courses that students can easily transfer to universities when they go there to complete their degrees, preventing community college students from having to pay for expensive programs and infrastructure.
Additionally, community college students often live at home and commute to the local campus, saving a huge bundle on not living in a dorm or apartment. Living at home can also help a college student’s financial situation by keeping him or her away from expensive party and social scenes like those found at universities, where students living far from parental supervision can rapidly drain their bank accounts and rack up credit card debt. Staying home at community college for two years and avoiding the pressure to spend one’s way to the full “college experience” may be a financial lifesaver and be the difference between earning a four-year degree later and dropping out of college permanently with a heavy load of debt.
Second, community colleges, aside from being far less expensive than universities, offer important job training and certification programs that can get students job-ready in far less time than four-year degrees. At community colleges students can earn EMT, paramedic, law enforcement, firefighting, paralegal, mechanic, and IT certifications and commercial driver’s licenses, all of which can be earned in considerably less than four years and certify one to embark on decent-paying careers. Ignoring these invaluable certification programs and blindly choosing to pursue a four-year degree may cost thousands of dollars extra and provide little or no extra benefit in the long run. Too many students may head to universities with no plan and wind up in degree programs that are personally unfulfilling and offer little market value; they should have instead looked at community college certification programs.
Third, many students may not be ready for the rigors of independent university life immediately after high school. Aside from the financial advantages of attending a community college, living at home while attending college locally can give students time to emotionally mature and develop their academic skills. Moving hundreds of miles away from home, or more, to attend a four-year university may be a tremendous and intimidating step for some high school graduates who have not spent more than a week away from home at a time! At age 18 these individuals may not be well-prepared to make the vast transition from high school to university, making a two-year period at a local college an excellent middle ground.
Two years of gaining emotional maturity and developing academic skills at a community college can make transitioning to a four-year university much more fulfilling. Students who have built confidence at their local college may be more likely to “hit the ground running” at a university and pursue their education more vigorously, actually have a far more fulfilling experience than a less-confident and less-mature student who began at the university as a freshman.