Community colleges are best buy

Once considered a refuge for high school graduates who were rejected by four-year institutions, community colleges today are increasingly the destination for those wanting to spend less for a quality education (“Middle-Class Families Increasingly Look to Community Colleges,” The New York Times, Apr. 8).

I completely understand their appeal.  The truth is that enrollment in an elite college or university is no assurance of effective instruction.  Professors are more concerned with their publications than with their pedagogy.  In contrast, community college instructors have no such pressure.  As a result, they can focus on teaching without fear of being dismissed.  For students who have graduated from high school with deficits in particular, community college is a cost-effective way of getting back on track to graduation.

But even students who have graduated from high schools with excellent reputations are rethinking their decisions.  For example, Pasadena City College had a 320 percent increase in the number of students whose parents make more than $100,000 a year.  It’s a trend seen in other community colleges as well.

For high school graduates who want to learn a well-paying trade, community colleges are a bargain.  Classes are taught by professionals who bring their expertise from years of experience in their respective fields to the classroom.  Rather than pay thousands of dollars to for-profit trade schools, students get the same benefit for a fraction of the cost.

When I was working on my M.S. in journalism at UCLA in 1964, these schools were called junior colleges.  The name change reflected their wider mission, which today is well deserved.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

6 Replies to “Community colleges are best buy”

  1. Excellent column.
    Community colleges are so important to people of all ages.
    I am very familiar to a state where if a student takes the proper courses in a pre-engineering program at a community college, they can enter a four year engineering college as a junior. There are many majors offered at community colleges for the needs of many.
    Students will save thousands of dollars.
    Community colleges offer an opportunity to people who have been out of high school for a few years and realize that by going back to school, they will improve their lives.


  2. John: It always amazes me that community colleges are viewed as inferior to four-year institutions. They offer a wide variety of courses at bargain rates for students of all ages. Their emphasis on teaching as opposed to research makes them particularly invaluable. In contrast, so many four-year schools have graduate students teaching introductory classes even though they know little about pedagogy. California has the most community colleges and remains justifiably proud of its history in t his regard.


    1. It saddens me when people put down community colleges the same way they put down vocational technical high schools.


  3. John: I share your opinion. I’ve seen so many young people come to love school when they take vocational courses. But we’re fighting an uphill battle in this regard.


  4. I was a casual high school student with no prospect of admission to a first-rate university as a Freshman. After two great years at Pasadena City College I was able to transfer to UCLA as a Junior, and complete a BA after two more years, with a student loan debt of $2000. But that was a long time ago. Pasadena has maintained its reputation as one of the best CCs in California, in terms of transfers to UC and CSU. What has changed: the surrounding communities, where middle class ranch houses have been razed and replaced by mini-mansions, somewhat explaining the 320% increase in wealthy students.

    But what about the the more typical CC student?

    I am a decades-long advocate for community colleges, but too many current high school grads are unprepared for the rigors of college-level academics. CCs take all comers, and accept their mission to accommodate students with academic, financial, and personal challenges. There is too much media hoopla about students being admitted to colleges, relative to the ongoing reality of massive dropout rates. Making a bad situation worse, the dropouts suffer from non-dischargeable loan debt and the opportunity cost of wasted time.

    Both high schools and CCs should coordinate to provide technical training as an option for students who want to do skilled work and make money, in the real world of business and family responsibilities. Make things. Sell things. Fix things.

    Meanwhile, high school and CC academic standards are adjusted downwards to boost grad rates upwards. Not today’s topic.


  5. Lancer: You echo my sentiments. Community colleges are such a great resource for so many people from so many different backgrounds. Spending the first two years there en route to a B.A. is a wise decision because of the reasonable tuition. For students who want to learn a trade, community colleges are also a bargain. Thanks for sharing your experience.


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