When I first took my job at the community college, people would congratulate me and then follow up with something like “Just until you get a job at a real college, right?”
A real college? Seriously? It quickly became clear to me what they meant: a 4-year university.
Presumably, none of these people had ever attended a community college before—because had they, they would know what I’m about to tell you: a community college is very much a real college.
Of course, even our own students, upon entering the institution, tend to undervalue the community college. In some cases, they feel stigmatized because they’ve been relegated to this lesser institution, this “Harvard on the Hill,” where they will undoubtedly receive a sub-par post-secondary education from what must be sub-par educators (because all the real professors teach at real colleges). Many of our students are quick to point out that this is just a quick stop on their way to the big 4-year university down the road. Others lie and declare themselves university students, avoiding questions about their dorm assignments. Some will tell you they’re here because it’s their only choice.
Let me be clear: there is nothing sub-par about the community college. We are not the rejects!
Our students are not a bunch of 4-year University rejects. I know this is surprising to many people, but a lot of our students choose to attend our community college. And they choose it for a variety of good reasons. Those reasons include cost, class size, convenience, location, program offerings, etc. To be frank, we beat out every local 4-year college in almost every one of those arenas. Just look at cost: $13,000 (tuition and fees) for a local student to do a year at our local public 4-year college compared to $3,000 at our 2-year school. Even if a student is planning to transfer to a 4-year school, it’s a better deal to put in 2 years with us first: same classes, with a savings of almost $10,000/year.
Neither are our instructors a bunch of 4-year University rejects. People are always surprised to learn that I turned down a position at Clemson in favor of teaching at Tri-County. I choose to work at a community college. I, like all of my colleagues, am perfectly qualified to teach the classes I teach—whether here or at the 4-year school down the road. In fact, many of our adjunct instructors also teach at 4-year schools–the same courses they teach for us. We also have a number of instructors who have joined us after leaving 4-year schools. Our reasons, like the reasons for which our students choose us, are varied (I like the smaller class sizes, too!), but we’re not here just because we can’t get something better. Trust me. And if you doubt the high quality of our classes, ask my students. They’ll tell you they had/have to work just as hard as, if not harder than, their peers in comparable freshman composition classes at the university.
Our graduates aren’t rejects either! There’s this big ole myth that today you need a 4-year degree to be successful. And that just isn’t true. Not everyone needs a 4-year degree (in fact, some might argue the job market is flooded with 4-year degrees seeking employment)! Look at our workforce: 62% of allied health professionals and over 80% of law enforcement officials were educated by community colleges. And don’t think for one minute that community college grads are destined to make less money. Recent research indicates community college graduates are out-earning those with Bachelor’s degrees.The median wage for an electrical engineering technician is $52,000/year in our area. And the degree you need for that career choice? An Associate’s in Mechatronics. A Registered Nurse in our area could be making up to $72,000/year, and we offer the degree for that, too. We’ve heard a lot in the news over the last few years about college graduates who can’t find work. With, for example, 668 average openings for RNs in our area each year, I think it’s safe to say that the community college degree is a good bet. Still not sure community colleges breed success? Check out these successful alumni.
Real college? The community college is a real college: we take real people, give them real knowledge and real skills and put them into real careers.