On Education Part 2: The Value of Community College

Today at work, I got into a conversation with a young woman who was vacillating on her education. Her current position paid little more than minimum wage, but she wasn’t concrete on any future plans. “I want to go to college, but I just…don’t know what I want to do.”

Well, you know what they say, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making grand plans for it.” So, I suggested the local community college. We have an excellent system in our area, so I extolled the virtues of it to her.

We all know the common benefits: It’s cheaper. Lots cheaper. You can live at home. You can keep any job and wage that you may already have. The classes are smaller. Blah. Blah. Blah.

I did community college for a short time, and I had a great experience. It’s not right for everyone, but here are a few advantages to community colleges that not many people know.

Teacher Quality

Many professionals will make extra money by teaching a course or two at the community college. All you need is a Master’s degree or equivalent experience in the field you are teaching. After all, if you’ve been in your field a while, why not make a little extra money by going down to the college and talking about what you do for three hours a week? That’s a few hundred extra dollars for you, and you can pat yourself on the back for investing in the next generation.

I had a journalism instructor that was a copy editor at one of the largest newspapers in Texas. It was an intro course, and he just taught the one class and worked at the newspaper the rest of the time. His experience was much more current and relevant than say, an ex-reporter that had been teaching at a university for the last decade. When I transferred to a university and took the next course in that series, I actually knew more than the students who had taken the intro course at the university.

Sometimes, if a university instructor is not under contract, they will teach summer courses at the community college. I got a lot of instructors that were current or former instructors at the local universities. Some of them would even insist on using the same textbooks because it was easier for them to keep the material straight. If they were doing that, they thought, then why not use the same tests and assignments? Basically, it was a university quality course, at a community college price.

The GPA Booster Trick

 This is a little known fact that university students work to their advantage. Your community college grades do not transfer to a university. Only the credits. So, say you are a student at maybe, the University of Texas, and you come home for the summer. You know you are horrible at math, but your degree plan calls for one course. So, you take it at the community college. As long as you get at least a “C,” the university will accept the credit, and not calculate the grade into your GPA.

For some people, the general education classes are the hardest. Their major courses are easier because it’s something they are passionate about, or have a natural affinity toward. Getting those gen-eds out of the way at community college can be a smart trick for a higher GPA on your resume when you graduate.

 The Sophomore Advantage.

This is a bit more of a traditional reason, but I will mention it anyway. Most universities only  consider high school records for freshman. Once you have completed thirty hours of college work (one full-time year), your high school records, test scores, etc. are usually irrelevant. This means, if they weren’t that hot to begin with, taking thirty hours of college work erases all of that. You start over. That is the sophomore advantage.

However, the danger with community college, is that it can be so accessible, and so available that many people ultimately don’t use it. They talk about it. They think about it. They plan to do it. But they put it off or take it slow until they turn around and realize they have pretty much missed the boat on college. If you’re going to go, then go. Yesterday is a memory, and tomorrow is not guaranteed. You only have today. Make the best of it.


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