Community College Students Not Likely To Earn Four-Year Degrees
Community college students are less likely to earn four-year degrees, according to a new study from the Century Foundation.
The alarming find showed that 81.4 percent of students entering a community college planned to achieve a four-year degree, but only 11.6 percent actually followed through.
Brian C. Mitchell, CEO of the Edvance Foundation, blamed it on under-staffing in comments to The Huffington Post.
“You may know how to get to your local community college, but when you get there you have very good but overworked community college counselors,” said Mitchell.
A second dilemma cited by HuffPo is the spending differential between four-year universities and community colleges. Compared to their four-year brethren, community colleges spend a little more than $23,000 less per student.
Research from the Delta Cost Project revealed that four-year colleges and universities spent around $36,190 per student compared to just $12,957 at the smaller institutions. The disparity was even greater compared with private research institutions, which fork out $66,744 per pupil.
Mitchell added that financial aid is often an issue for community college students transitioning, with most being the first from their families to advance their educations beyond high school.
“If you’re not used to the mechanisms of a four-year college or university financing structure, how do you navigate it?” he said.
The report concluded that if the current trend continues, community colleges would be in “great danger of becoming indelibly separate and unequal institutions in the higher education landscape.”
Still, dire track record aside, let’s look at the 11.6 percent who did make it. What differentiated them, and how can you learn from them?
1. Take your time at community college seriously.
It’s okay to not know what you’re going to do with your life when you enter community college. In fact, it’s expected. But in contrast to the public education system, this is where your education starts costing you money. While there are financial aid opportunities available, the longer you go, the more expensive it gets. It’s time to start making decisions with the future in mind. Community college is great because it allows you to explore your general education courses and foresee the ones that speak to you more than others. By the time you attain your two-year degree, you should have a better handle on who you are and which educational path you wish to follow. Forward-thinking is a requirement for living the kind of life you wish to live. If you’re not doing it at this point, take some time off. We’ve just established that most community college students never earn their four-year degrees anyway, so what have you got to lose by waiting until you’re in a more mature place before pursuing your path?
2. Make nice with high school teachers and counselors.
Wait, high school teachers and counselors? Didn’t graduation earn you the right never to speak to them again? Well, yeah, but if you choose to forget about them, you’re doing so at your own expense. These people stay in the teaching profession because they love it — it’s clearly not the pay or the “time off” — and each has been where you are. There isn’t a high school teacher or counselor around, who hasn’t navigated the often confusing maze en route to a four-year degree. Stay connected with some of the ones that you respected throughout your tenure. Seek their input. Counselors, in particular, are well equipped to answer the financial aid applications you may have, and they can also turn you on to scholarship/grant opportunities.
3. Seek help from your community college counselors.
While Mr. Mitchell above (nicely) implied that your community college counselors may be a key part of the problem — and he may be right — that doesn’t mean you should completely ignore these people. Seek out yours, and see what he or she has to say, but also keep in mind that you are not their sole concern. They’ve got hundreds or thousands of other students to worry about, and it’s often all these folks can do to make it through the day. Your education is your education, and no one will care as much as you SHOULD. So refer back to number two if you’re still feeling confused, and also don’t neglect the next option.
4. Reach out to professionals related to your preferred major.
By the time you’re in your second year of community college, you don’t have to know exactly what you want to do with your life, but you should have some insight into your strengths, weaknesses, wants, and needs. Begin researching the types of jobs in your field of major, and then see if you can find any people doing what you want to do at the local level. Yes, it takes some research, prep time, and legwork, but people love talking about themselves, and if you play your hand right, chances are good you’ll find someone willing to talk to you.
5. Don’t get psyched out, and stop thinking about the numbers.
The hardest part of any foot race is lacing up your running shoes. Once you’re in the mix, the compulsion to finish is overwhelming unless you’re a quitter, and we certainly hope you’re not. Yes, the financial aid system can be difficult to navigate, and four-year colleges are expensive. No denying that. But if you’re building and using a good support network, you’ll be ensconced in the four-year university scene before you know it, and from that point, it’s all about staying focused and performing your best. College isn’t all that hard once you cut through the paperwork, the FAFSA forms, and the degree plans. Each educational path is designed to prepare you for the next until, finally, you’re standing in line ready to hear your name read. So don’t think about the numbers — not your college loan debt, not the failure rate among people in your situation. Focus on the education itself, and the rest will take care of itself.
Have you given thought to attending a community college? If so, what are your plans after graduating?