Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Community Colleges: Helpful Places Where People Can Realize Their Dreams

“Community Colleges: Helpful Places Where People Can Realize Their Dreams”
Darrel L. Hammon, Ph.D.

Calling community colleges “helpful places,” where “people realize their dreams,” past and present U.S. presidents, Bush and Obama, two very different presidents, believe community colleges are “major assets of our country.” For most, this revelation is not new. But, unfortunately, the revelation about how good community colleges are and have been somehow has not been received by many who are not educationally in tune or they have not had to use the services community colleges offer.
But there is hope. Many leaders maintain community colleges are integral parts of our educational society, especially when we listen to the needs of the communities they reside in and the workers who need to upgrade their skills to compete in today’s ever-changing marketplace.
Community colleges are all about access, affordability, and quality.
First access—Throughout the United States, students are clamoring to enroll in community colleges. Enrollments are up in almost every community college in the country. Community colleges do not have long lines or large classes or professors who don’t know your name. If you want a course, the chances are great that you will be able to get into it. Community colleges offer a variety of options for learners: day and night courses, on-campus and off-campus courses, non-credit or continuing education courses, customized workforce development programming, and online courses.

Many community colleges offer courses in outreach sites throughout their service areas—some in schools, others in shopping malls, and others in churches or community buildings. Community colleges also encourage high school students who are ready to enroll in dual and concurrent enrollment courses already articulated at their high schools or attend courses via video conferencing or the Internet. Bottom line is this: Community colleges provide great programming that is accessible to everyone.
Second, affordability—Community colleges are notoriously less expensive than universities and four-year colleges. Community colleges are better educational buys for the State. With the local county usually providing about 50% of the total cost of the community colleges, the State is able to educate/train students at half the cost or less, truly a great investment for taxpayers. Students from the local area usual stay in their states and in their communities, thus providing additional economic development for the community. Statistics show that each student contributes more than $10,000 per year to the economy, in form of housing, tuition, books, groceries, entertainment, etc. Ask any pizza joint in a college town. They can tell you when students are in town and when they are not.

What is even more blatant is it definitely less expensive to send your children to a community college for the first two years. When parents consider the first two years at any college, everyone has to take core subjects like English, speech, literature, computers, science, math, history, social sciences, and others.

So the question begs: If student can enroll in quality programs at affordable prices and take the courses for 1/3 of the cost, why not do it?

When you compare the cost of attending a community college to other postsecondary institutions in your state, community colleges are, by far, the best educational great bargain, especially if you are a taxpayer, and that pretty much includes all of us. With our economy the way it is, attending community colleges just makes good economic sense.
What about quality? Many times the question about quality emerges from discussions regarding sending young people to community college. The answer is quite simple: the quality and rigor do not suffer. In fact, many community college graduates who transfer to four-year colleges and universities do as well as or better than their counterparts who began their education at the university.

Some years ago, a chauffeur of a shuttle was driving some community college people to a national convention where President Bush was going to speak. During the drive, the discussion turned to community colleges and why these people were in town. The chauffeur told the group that he was a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, an extremely good university. When he found out who his audience was, he was anxious to discuss his experiences as a community college student.
After attending a community college in Wisconsin, he transferred to the university. At first, he was a bit tenuous about moving from a small community college to a large university and wondered how he would do academically. He did well. In fact, he said, “I believe I had to work harder at the community college than I did at the university.”

Community Colleges truly offer quality programs, everything from the GED for those who have dropped out of school and wish to return to college to professional-technical programs such a building construction, auto mechanics, health information sciences, nursing, wind energy, and computer technology, including networking. Most of these programs offer internships to help students participate in real, hands-on skills training already being used in the workplace. Also, with a professional-technical two-year degree or a one-year certificate, you can immediately enter the workplace, equipped with the appropriate skills employers want and desperately need.

Interesting, many famous and successful people attended community colleges: Ross Perot, Jim Lehrer, George Lucas, Nolan Ryan, Sarah Palin and many others, including senators, journalists, university and college presidents, and successful business people.

Whether you attend one of the community colleges in your state or in your hometown, you will be offered quality programs that are extremely accessible and especially affordable. In essence, community colleges are educational bargains—and everyone loves a bargain.

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