community college
Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio is among the 1,132 colleges of its kind in the US. Source: Scott Olson/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP

It’s the prime time for community colleges to shine as international students are reconsidering their higher education plans in the face of COVID-19.

According to the president of Rockland Community College (RCC) Michael A. Baston, the two-year public college could be the “best strategic option” right now.

“Today, about half of all bachelor’s degree earners [in the US] began their education at a community college, and this pandemic will shine a bright light on the contribution of these institutions to the entire educational ecosystem,” he wrote.

As a result, its market is expected to grow by US$14.74 billion from 2020 until 2024. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, the 1,132 community colleges in the US enroll just over 13 million students.

Why are students drawn to community college?

community college

Students from under-served communities can embark on further education, gain a qualification, and engage in formal job training. Source: Hagar Lotte Geyer/Pixabay

Well, the main reason is cost.

Community college tuition can be as little as US$3,500 per year, according to the National Society of High School Scholars. Out of-state-students attending a public university pay up to US$35,000. This enables students from under-served communities to embark on further education, gain a qualification, and engage in formal job training.

These colleges also offer financial aid options, which currently benefit at least a third of students.

“Going to community college for two years — getting all of your pre-requisites and then transferring to a university — can save students up to $60,000 in some cases,” said Venkates Swaminathan, founder and CEO of online college planning and coaching service LifeLaunchr.

Baston added, “Thanks to the school’s affordable tuition, students who begin their college careers at RCC before transferring to four-year colleges save as much as US$100,000 on their education.”

Beyond affordable tertiary education

So if you opt for community college for the first two years of your bachelor’s degree, you can save a significant amount on fees. However, that’s not all.

Here are other reasons to consider this higher education pathway.

  • Study close to home — Since there is a community college within commuting distance of 90% of the US population, American students stand to benefit the most from these institutions.
  • Focused teaching in smaller classes — When you’re in a small class, you receive personalised attention from lecturers and form stronger bonds with peers.
  • Flexible schedule — You can choose your modules and classes to suit your lifestyle. For example, you could still work part-time to fund your education.
  • Exposure to diverse topics — Enrolling in a two-year college will expose you to basic knowledge for several industries. So if you’re unsure of your career path, this is a good place to build your foundation.
  • Support for academic progression — “Many public and private four-year institutions have transfer agreements with community colleges. At least 30 states have policies that guarantee that students with an associate degree can transfer to a four-year school as a junior,” Baston explained.
  • Industry links to in-demand jobs — Community colleges have a “keen focus on meeting the needs of business and industry in the communities they serve,” said Baston. “The external relationships we have built throughout the community ensured that we were already creating career pathways and explore options that will serve students well as they perhaps have to shift their career choices based on a new reality.”
  • Build portfolio for dream school — Going to community college gives students the chance to get the right grades and co-curricular credentials to apply to their dream university. Baston tells that RCC graduates have gone on to complete their education at prestigious institutions such as Albany, Binghamton, Stony Brook, Cornell, MIT, Stanford, and Georgetown.

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