Not a Last Resort: 5 Community College Myths Debunked

With the rising cost of tuition at four-year institutions, more students are turning to community colleges.
Students seek community colleges as an affordable alternative to four-year universities with steep tuitions. (Photo: Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images)
Aug 1, 2012

Even as community colleges experience record-high enrollment, the stigma surrounding these institutions still prevails. In a country that takes pride in exclusive four-year universities, community colleges are often regarded as second-rate. However, with government attention devoted to the reform and funding of community colleges, maybe it’s time to change the way we view them. 

Myth #1: Community college is for those who were rejected by four-year institutions.

Students choose the community college path for different reasons, be it to save money, earn an additional degree, or discover a new field of interest. According to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, “Community colleges, I continue to believe, have this ability to transform young people’s lives, adults’ lives, older people’s lives in very profound ways.” The total fall enrollment in community colleges increased from 5.7 million in 2000 to 6.2 million in 2005 and 7.1 million in 2009. In 2009, 2.9 million students were enrolled full-time.

Myth #2: The education at a community college is not as top-notch.

The cost of attending a community college amounts to only a fraction of the average tuition at a four-year school, but that doesn’t mean the education isn’t high quality. A diverse list of courses are offered at these colleges—some of which even require placement tests in order to get in. The Washington Post reports:

Most community colleges offer courses ranging from strictly academic subjects that are designed to prepare people for further academic study, to continuing education enrichment courses that are not graded. Many colleges also partner with local businesses to provide career-oriented training in fields such as technology or health care. Often, the range of courses offered at a community college will reflect the needs and goals of the community it serves.

MORE: Community Colleges Crucial to Obama's Graduation Goals 

Myth #3: It’s difficult to transfer to a four-year university.

Making the transition from a two-year institution to a university requires a lot of research and planning. Many universities welcome transfer students; in fact, 30 percent of graduates of the University of California system previously attended a community college. Community colleges enter “articulation agreements” with four-year institutions to inform students what courses have transferrable credits. U.S. News & World Report has some tips for a successful transfer, including completing an associate’s degree.

Myth #4: A degree from a community college doesn’t have much value in comparison to a university degree.

Graduates of community college usually face two paths: continuing education at a four-year university or finding employment. However, many express doubts that a degree from a community college won’t be seen as competitive in the workforce. Sixty-two percent of allied health professionals and over 80 percent of law enforcement officers and firefighters are educated through the community college system, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.

Myth #5: No one successful attends a community college. 

Many well-known names started out at a community college, including Walt Disney and Star Wars creator George Lucas.

Did you attend a community college? Let us know in comments.

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