Monday, November 30, 2009

Community College?

This post is optional.

I'm not sure that you would be challenged by your peers at a community college. As someone with direct experience going to school at a great school (Huzzah for William and Mary!) and a second tier school (Longwood), I can attest to the fact that I learned a great deal more when I shared the classroom with better (on average) students. So I'm skeptical of the claim that top notch students are challenged at the community college level. But I'd like your input: Would you consider starting your college career at a community college? Why or why not? Answer in the comments after you have read the article.

Article reprinted below for educational purposes:

The best and brightest take a detour
Recession-wary honor students are using community college as door to elite schools

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 30, 2009

Kira Cassels applied to 11 colleges and got in to every one. The kitchen of her Laurel home came to resemble a high school guidance office, the breakfast table buried beneath brochures and financial aid forms from destinations such as the University of Virginia and Franklin & Marshall College.

Over two arduous weeks last spring, Cassels sat with her parents and weighed the costs and benefits of each program until the list was narrowed to one: an honors track at the local community college.

Cassels, 18, is one of an increasing number of high school graduates who pass over top-drawer public and private universities to become honor students at community colleges. Recession-wary students are flocking to selective two-year programs, which allow students to complete half of their college education for about $8,000, then transfer to a more prestigious four-year institution.

Cassels attended Atholton High School in the Howard County school system, one of the region's top college-prep engines. She took Advanced Placement courses, earned mostly A's, scored more than 600 on each 800-point section of the SAT and found time to start a nonprofit organization that delivers comfort baskets to infants in intensive care.

She learned to expect a certain reaction -- surprise and dismay -- when telling classmates and family friends that her university admissions journey had ended at a community college.

"You say Howard Community College, and people are like, 'Oh, community college,' " said Cassels, who lives with a younger brother and parents who both work. "But it's really a lot more than it sounds."

Honors enrollment at Howard Community College, a 9,000-student campus in Columbia, has risen from 123 to 185 in the past two years. Cassels enrolled in the signature program, Rouse Scholars, which takes 45 high school graduates each year and offers a proven pipeline to four-year schools. The average Rouse scholar has a 3.7 grade-point average and a combined SAT score of 1596 out of a possible 2400 points.

Over the past two decades, community college honors programs have found a niche among students who were turned down by increasingly selective state universities and didn't want to pay private-college tuition. Enrollment grew steadily until the recession. Then, it exploded.

Montgomery College in Maryland had a record 275 applications this fall for 25 seats in its Montgomery Scholars program, up from 215 last year. Honors enrollment at Prince George's Community College rose 28 percent this year to 292 students. A new honors program at Anne Arundel Community College grew from 22 students last year to 33 this year. On the Loudoun County campus of Northern Virginia Community College, enrollment in honors English is up by 50 percent.

The influx of students with good test scores and multiple options for higher education is reshaping community colleges, a class of schools that, although open to all, have been stereotyped as a destination of last resort, sweeping up students with the least money and the weakest academic preparation.

Enrollment in honors programs at community colleges seems to be growing faster than overall enrollment at the schools, which surged by about 10 percent this year in the Washington region, as students of various age groups and socioeconomic levels sought affordable higher education.

"We've sometimes struggled to get sufficient enrollment in the honors seminars. Well, recently, we've been packing them," said Beverly Blois, dean of humanities at the Loudoun campus of Northern Virginia Community College. "More and more of what I call the best and brightest are turning to us."

Building connections

Community colleges can't match the prestige of a selective four-year college, nor the experience of living on campus. But they can offer small classes, attentive professors, intelligent classmates and inventive course work.

Hajirah Ishaq, a sophomore at Northern Virginia Community College, is studying the architecture of Dulles International Airport and Raphaelite paintings at the National Gallery in a humanities honors course.

Ishaq, 19, said she is going to community college because she is the eldest of 12 children. She describes her honors classmates as "overachievers" with ambitious transfer plans. "They talk about George Washington, Georgetown; they talk about Boston," she said. "They talk about big schools." Ishaq hopes to attend Georgetown.

In Maryland, the centerpiece of the Montgomery Scholars program is a year-long course called "Perspectives on World Cultures." Four professors team-teach a syllabus that covers literature, history, philosophy and music from a global perspective.

"We're seeing connections between different subjects. I really like that," said Lucy Bauer, 18, a freshman Montgomery Scholar who said she "never, never ever" imagined herself in community college until she took a closer look at her family's finances and the school's offerings.

A recruiting meeting in October for next year's Montgomery Scholars drew 350 people for 25 seats. Graduates have transferred to Smith, Amherst and Cornell.

Montgomery Scholars is 10 years old and is modeled on the Rouse program, which is in its 18th year. Barbara Greenfeld, a Howard Community College administrator who helped establish Rouse, said she thinks it is partly responsible for doubling the share of Howard high school graduates who attend the community college, from 12 percent in the early 1990s to 25 percent today.

Howard Community College offers study abroad and a formal transfer agreement with Dickinson College, a selective liberal arts school in Carlisle, Pa., in a program cited as a national model for collaboration between two- and four-year colleges.

"If you have a strong honors identity, it's good for everybody," Greenfeld said.

Thrift before prestige

In front of a classroom at the Howard Community College campus in Columbia on a recent afternoon, a classmate of Cassels's announced that she was about to "give you guys a little background on the psychedelic experience."

She and two other students embarked on a multimedia presentation on pop art as part of a course called "20th Century Arts, Culture and Ideas." An hour later, the class had moved on to Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse-Five."

Cassels and her parents chose the community college with the same sense of thrift that guides them these days at the grocery store or the mall. "We're not hurting for money," she said. But she and her parents didn't feel comfortable committing $20,000 to $30,000 a year in tuition and fees, room and board, the amount they would have owed on top of the five-figure scholarships offered by several four-year colleges.

Turning down U-Va. and Franklin & Marshall was a bit of a gamble: There's no guarantee that Cassels will get into the college of her choice as a transfer student in two years. She hopes to finish her bachelor's at Barnard College or Cornell University.

Cassels said it was hard to watch classmates leave home this fall while she stayed behind, as if for a fifth year of high school.

"My other friends, they go away to these other schools, and they come back sometimes, weekends and holidays, and I feel like I miss the college life," she said. "I don't know if it's a shallow thing on my part."

But Cassels said she loves her new classes, the professors and the interdisciplinary projects. She feels challenged. If there is more to college, she's willing to wait a year or two to find out.

"It's not like I'm really losing anything," she said, "except the name of a school."

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  1. I am not considering going to a Community College because I want both the full college experience and not having to switch schools part-way through my college years. However; the idea of attending a cheaper and more personal college for the first two years could be beneficial for many people, especially for those in dire financial situations or are not ready in one way or another for the college setting and are the ones who drop out after they realize college is not for them, whereas they might feel more welcome and ready to learn if the atmosphere is less stressful. Not only will they get some education that will help later in life, they will have saved a significant amount of money, which is now not weighing their early working life down. Personally, I like the idea of a smaller, more individualized college setting, so I will likely go to a smaller liberal arts college for undergraduate to learn at my own pace, then go to a larger or more prestigious college for graduate school, where more and better options will be available. As far as challenging peers, I think community colleges could be lacking, but not if enough higher achieving people are choosing that path to have a good intellectual group of peers. Wherever someone chooses to pursue higher education, as long as they are eager and willing to learn, they will take much more away than being overwhelmed or just concerned about the name of their college, even if they are in the best situations.

  2. I think going to a community college is a good idea if one isn't a bad one if someone is pressed for money. I'm not sure if it's a good idea to do it if one wants to major in a field of science as I'm pretty sure you have less time to start undergraduate research. I also think that community colleges have less resources and opportunities (libraries, clubs and societies .etc). There's also no guarantee it's going to be challenging enough. For these reasons I'm not considering going to a community college.

  3. Personally, my parents would loathe the idea of me going to a community college. As professors/teachers, they believe that the standard at higher levels of education is, as it sounds, higher, and therefore has a greater impact on one's learning experience. Being raised by them, I agree and feel that I would only want to go somewhere where I know I will be challenged and not have to worry about superfluous, unnecessary schooling.
    I agree with Marcus that it would be difficult to change different environments in college, but the thing is that people, especially people who pursue post-grad degrees do that anyways. (Usually, or at least, in the case of the adults I know who have done that.)
    That being said, I think that the problem most people have with the idea of going to a community college is the fact that is has lower expectations and not as much prestige as other colleges. I've seen a lot of students who go to community college go on to higher levels of learning, though, and I think that's becoming a lot more popular. When people say it saves them money, I can see that. (But it doesn't make sense if people go to a community college...and then transfer for another four years at a more expensive college. I also think that one might not be able to learn as wide as a variety of subjects in as great depth as other colleges, which also deters people from the whole point of college--to expand knowledge on a subject and then use that in a future job position, usually. But I think that as long as people pursue higher education and challenge themselves as much as possible and try their very hardest, they will learn as much as they need to, regardless of it being a community college or an ivy league.

  4. I would not consider going to a community college. Even though other schools cost much more, I believe the education received at an other school would be better and worth the money. At larger schools, there are more opportunities, as Marcus stated above. Personally, a community college would not be a good idea for me because I would like to double major in math and music, and community colleges rarely have music programs, much less strong and competitive ones. Also, I would like to pursue graduate school in both areas, and I would be concerned how the graduate schools I would be applying to would view my choice to go to community college. I think non-community schools provide a better and fuller college experience.

  5. I would go to a community college. People are too stuck up about it. Some people don 't the money to just go to some prestige school. Some people don't have mommy and daddy to pay for their school, or at least any of it at all. If you take loans for tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of dollars, you aren't guaranteed to make all of it back, from a job you may not even get. You got to do what you got to do.

  6. Community colleges have a purpose and I think that's to take students who are capable of producing good work but slacked off, partied, or just didn't try in high school and turn them into college students. What I mean by that is they should serve as a stepping stone to a four-year university for those not mature enough to go to college straight out of high school.

    I, personally, would not go to a community college. Like others have said, the quality of education is not particularly great, though I wouldn't be opposed to taking community college classes over the summer or something to get some general ed requirements out of the way.

    However, something I've noticed becoming more talked about is that a smart person of any means can go to a great four-year university. That's not true. Maria, in class, cited a kid in a single-parent home. The single-parent was making 90k and only had to pay 8k. Great. What about the kid whose parent makes 15k or 20k, who has to work after school every day to help support the family and can't spend nearly as much time studying, much less join a wide range of extracurriculars like most of us can and do.

    I can afford to go to a four-year university so I will. But I'm not looking down or criticizing anyone who chooses another route.

  7. I would want to go to a four year college primarily because i want to run in college and community colleges don't offer scholarships. I also want to get a good education. I do not think that you can't get a very god education from community colleges but i do think if you go to a college that can meet specifically your wants as far as education then that should be where you go. these places i think are four year colleges. At the end of the day i would say go for whatever best fits you; its an investment you are making so chose the one you work best in.

  8. I'd go. I know people who went to community college, and it garnered their interests just as well as any four-year institution would have. They've also helped those people prepare for those four-year institutions. I'm sure the education quality might not be as good, but there are always honors classes, and at least those will provide some challenging material. But learning is no automatic process, and four-year institutions don't just automatically put information in the heads of their students. The students have to work hard and use their resources. That can be done at community college, too. None of this is to say that my parents wouldn't kill me if I did go. But that's all just a ridiculous matter of pride, which sadly keeps so many people away from community college, even if it's their best (or only) option.

  9. I think that people shouldn't completely rule out community college, especially if they don't have a concrete source of money to pay for their education. I do however; think that it's possible to work your way through some of college and get reasonable loans if you really work for it. Not all people want to go to a 4 year college though, I think it all depends on a person's individual situation and what they're dealing with at that point in their life. I personally would prefer to go to a regular 4 year college because I'd have more opportunities and could maybe form a better sense of community and belonging with the students around me. I feel like I'd get more invested in my school activities and the overall atmosphere if I knew I had a place at a school for a whole 4 years.

  10. Community College is a great option for those pressed for money, or those who did not get into a top-ranking state school. Although it is sad that a lack of income can hinder success in life, community colleges provide a way around this.
    That being said, they should always be a last option. You need to focus on getting into your school of choice, not one where you save a few thousand dollars. Four-year institutions offer more opportunities, better teachers, and more facilities that a two year community college.

  11. Community College is a great option. People who go to CC should not be looked down upon by others who have attended major state universities. Small colleges should not be looked at as inferior either. I mean Mr. Teuting went to Longwood, and he has turned out just fine. Just cause you go to a smaller university or community college doesn't mean your not as smart as those who did. Community College is very well an option for me...


Questions? Comments? Bueller? Bueller?