Community College may offer more than you think

Surprising as it may sound to some, there are many benefits in going to a community college that go beyond the lower sticker price. Some benefits even trump going to a four-year college for the whole four-years depending on the student’s situation.

Michelle Johnson, the Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences here at Black Hawk College, calls herself a “big believer in community college” and lists many practical benefits to going to a community college. Johnson herself was a community college student. “It was a great place to just get my calling to figure out what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” she said.

Johnson explained that often times, your first year and sometimes your first two years in a four-year university you’ll do much of your general education or at least some of it in a large seminar type classroom. However, when you go to a community college, the classes are much smaller so there is a more one-on-one interaction between the students and the teachers.

Also, at a large four-year college, many of the general education classes would be taught by “graduate assistants” who are working towards a degree that might even be in a different field than the class they are teaching. “Their graduate education might be in law, but they are teaching a speech class,” said Johnson.

“Students are paying a higher tuition rate to go to a four-year university to be taught by a graduate assistant while they could go to a community college, pay less, and be taught by a real professor who works in that field.”

In addition, often times the graduate assistant is not much older than the students they are teaching.  In that sense, the student at a community college is getting a better deal because all the teachers are required by the state to have a degree in the field they are teaching.

Another great benefit to a community college is in the title. It is a community. Some people might be afraid that a small community would limit the cultural diversity, but it certainly is not the case at Black Hawk. Johnson proudly stated that Black Hawk has students from 97 different countries on campus. There is a thriving ESL program on campus and great opportunities for students to socialize with students from different ethnic backgrounds.

In addition to the cultural diversity, community colleges also have the added benefit of catering to students who are re-training and have been in the workforce. Non-traditional students are frequently found more on two-year college campus than at the four-year universities. These students bring to the table experiences of being out in the workforce from which younger students can learn from.

One could say that diversity is greater at Black Hawk than most four-years because there are not only diversity of cultures and ethnic backgrounds, but a great variety of people in all stages of life. Such opportunities can be a great learning tool for students. “You have that person who’s been laid off of the job and is coming back to retrain… and I consider that valuable,” said Johnson.

Then, when it does come to transferring to a four-year college, past data has shown that community college transfer students perform “at the same level or better” than students who have started at the four-year colleges as freshmen. Johnson believes this is due to the fact that the students are taught by certified teachers and so they have a better foundation for their core classes.

Additionally, it is becoming more apparent that students staying at one college for the full four-years are not presently very common. Johnson says Black Hawk is full of students who started out at a four-year college, but then decided they would rather go to a community college first and then transfer. Also, many students go to the four-year full time in the spring and fall, but then take community college classes during the summer. Very few people are taking the traditional college route, according to Johnson.

Community college is an opportunity that more and more people are seeing the benefits.  The opportunities range from classes being taught by certified teachers to students being able to keep up at the four-year colleges. But another point is that the college experience is still there with the amazing diversity in ethnicity and life experiences.  Community college is really worth each dollar spent and then some.