Community College: Is It Worth It?
My College Decision
As a high school student, I was in all Honors classes, and as such, it was assumed that my classmates and I would all be attending university. With graduation nearing, my teachers began asking around their classrooms to find out our future plans. Because of my education and upbringing, I had the mindset that community college was not an option, especially for a straight A’s Honor student. I remember fighting back tears when my English teacher asked me my plans. The classroom fell silent as I announced my acceptance to the Community College of Rhode Island…I was so embarrassed. Even my teacher pulled me aside after class, asking if I needed help exploring other options. Unfortunately, due to my financial situation, I was being forced into that choice. I could feel myself failing everyone’s expectations for me.
Annnnndddd… that’s the end of my pity party. Sorry guys, thanks for hanging in there. While my entrance to community college was pretty miserable, I truly lucked out in the end. I’m a fourth year student now, and still enjoy laughing at some of my high school classmates that are now paying $50,000+ per year for school. After four years at CCRI, I’ve accumulated exactly $19,320 in debt. I’ve even been able to pay for all of my books and several of my courses out of pocket. Of course, community college isn’t just all fine and dandy. There are a number of experiences that I really regret missing out on.
By now, you guys understand my love (or obsession) with lists. They’re just SO MUCH EASIER. So let’s break it down: pros and cons of community college.
Pros of Community College
Like I mentioned above, I saved so much money attending CCRI. After four years, I have just under $20,000 in debt, whereas my high school classmates have easily accumulated at least four times that amount. AT LEAST. It’s been so cheap that I’ve been able to pay off some of my courses in advance, significantly reducing my amount of student loans. Paying for my textbooks out of pocket has also allowed me to resell them at the end of each semester, making up at least 50% of the initial cost of each book.
For someone like my boyfriend, who has a ton of financial aid, there is even the possibility of making money. Each semester, Scott ends up with at least a couple hundred dollars left over from his Pell grant, which goes toward bookstore costs. Anything left over goes straight to his bank account, and he can still resell his old textbooks to make even more money. Of course, any extra money normally ends up going toward our living expenses, since we’re not staying in a dorm, but still! Extra money is extra money.
Thank GOD for night school. I quite literally wouldn’t be in college without it. Community colleges typically offer courses throughout the day and evening. CCRI has classes from 7AM to 9:30PM Monday through Friday, as well as Saturday morning classes. This is a huge benefit for working professionals who otherwise might not be able to attend. While a number of jobs may allow limited time off for post-secondary education, as a nanny, I don’t have that option. If I miss work, the parents I work for do too. Somebody has to be home to take care of the kids. I normally work 8AM to 5PM, and drive immediately over to school for class from 7PM to 9:30PM. Now, don’t get me wrong, that is so unbelievably hard. I don’t even eat dinner most nights, because I’m just so exhausted. Thankfully, I have the kids’ naptime at work to get my schoolwork done. It’s important to keep in mind that, although the days are long, I wouldn’t be in college if I didn’t have the option of night school.
Now, I’m not familiar with all of the states’ colleges, but in Rhode Island and New Hampshire, many of the community colleges and universities share transfer agreements, allowing for easier transfers between schools. In Rhode Island, the “Joint Admissions Agreement” (JAA) program allows for transfers from the community college to the University of Rhode Island, Providence College, and Rhode Island College. The program allows you to earn 60 credits at CCRI that apply to the your major at RIC or URI, thus saving you a ton of money. You’ll also be able to receive advising from CCRI, URI, and RIC advisors, have a waived application fee for RIC and URI, and possibly receive tuition discounts based on your GPA. New Hampshire (along with several other states) has a very similar program. Some states even have automatic acceptance when part of the community college transfer programs.
Extra Curricular Activities
You’ll see later in the cons section, that although I don’t take advantage of them whatsoever, community colleges provide so many different extracurricular activities to participate in. CCRI alone has over fifty student clubs/organizations, in addition to a number of athletic teams. There are honors societies, Greek life, and a ton of major specific clubs to join. For those who complain that community colleges don’t live up to four year universities, they’re certainly doing a pretty good job, huh?
Classes in community college are TINY. I have never attended a single lecture hall-style course in my four years at CCRI, even including exams. While the campuses do have them, the lecture halls at CCRI are absolutely minuscule–they fit about fifty people. With classes that small, it’s easy to form relationships with professors and fellow students. I sometimes see my professors from three or four years ago in the halls, and they still say hi and remember my name. It’s also easy to ask questions and hold discussions in class, with a lot less pressure. My favorite courses so far have been in history with Professor Lu…every couple of weeks, he would rearrange the entire classroom into a circle, and host discussions about hot topics in history. Many universities’ class sizes would never allow that.
Because of the availability of cheap, diversified courses, community colleges offer flexibility when it comes to career and major exploration. I seriously lucked out with this one. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve switched my major (in fact, I literally just changed it again this semester!). I took a number of very different classes, from musical theory to developmental psychology, before I finally settled on the education field. Even now, I’m still struggling to decide: early childhood or secondary? Teaching or social work? Thankfully, the classes at CCRI are so cheap that I can explore each career through the courses I take. After taking educational, abnormal, and developmental psychology courses, I know that I’m simply not mentally strong enough to handle social work. Luckily, I learned this before declaring that major or receiving that degree.
Cons of Community College
I’m sure you’ve all heard a number of transfer horror stories, where only three or four courses (out of thirty or forty) qualify to transfer. While many states have transfer agreements as mentioned above, many also do not. The worst part is, many classes are exactly the same! I remember hearing from my high school gym teacher about his experience transferring from Rhode Island College to a New Hampshire university. Many of his courses didn’t transfer, including a particular anatomy class, in which his RI professor had written the textbook for the equivalent NH course. Come on, people! Unfortunately, most colleges are out to get your money, and if your courses don’t transfer, you’ll have to retake them and pay more money.
Because I have yet to attend a four year university (transferring this fall!), I can’t truly compare the quality of coursework and teaching. I can tell you, however, that the professors at community colleges typically don’t give a shit. They just don’t. Many of them work other jobs during the day, and teach in the evenings. When it comes time to teach their night class, teachers don’t want to be there any more than you do. Unfortunately, that makes class that much more boring. Of course, there’s always the diamonds in the rough…some teachers truly just love being there, even after a long day of work. Luck of the draw, guys, luck of the draw.
Sorry to say, I still haven’t found a solution to this problem. Most of the students attending community college are either older adults or full-time workers. Either way, a lot of people simply aren’t there to make friends. The lack of dorms also contributes to that problem (although there are some community colleges that do have on-campus living). After living in Rhode Island, I remain friendless. Of course, this is partially my fault. As I mentioned above, most community colleges provide a ton of extracurricular activities. Because they normally encompass a vast array of interests, it’s so easy to make friends through clubs and athletics. In my situation, however, I work full-time, and attend night school. This leaves little to no time for extracurriculars, and seems to be the case for many community college students.
Limited Programs of Study
While community college does allow lots of flexibility when it comes to exploring different career fields, it still sticks to the generic forms of degrees (science, music, education, etc.). For example, though I plan to declare a Human Development and Family Studies major at URI, I’m stuck taking early childhood courses education at CCRI. Though I have no intention of teaching in a formal classroom setting, that’s the closest thing community college has to my degree. Many students find themselves settling for programs of study until they can transfer and declare the majors they actually desire. I’ve also struggled with class selection. I’m actually only four courses away from an associates degree, but am forced to transfer without it because those four courses aren’t available for night students. Seriously, it drives me crazy. So close, yet so impossibly far away…
Of course, we all know about the stigma surrounding community college. I make fun of it myself, even though I’m a student there. Scott and I always joke that you can tell the type of student at CCRI by their car. If it’s a nice one, they’re rich and too dumb for university. If it’s a crappy car, they’re too broke for university. We both fall in the latter. Most of the people I know stick to that stereotype as well. Community college is for dumb and/or poor people. Obviously not really true, but there’s no avoiding the assumption.
No matter the cons, I will forever be grateful that I ended up at CCRI. Don’t get me wrong, balancing work and school while also attempting to pay bills is so hard. The struggle is real, guys. I can never forget how much money I’m saving, however. To be three-four years in, and only 20grand in debt is insane. I miss having friends, I miss my family, and I often find myself wishing I could’ve had the real “college experience”, but that money will always make it worthwhile.
What are your thoughts on community college? Let us know how it worked out for you in the comments below…
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