It's decision time for our college bound students. Time to choose the college or university that will be home for the next 4 years.Or maybe not. The financial crisis has reared its ugly head once again, this time leaving many high school graduates with fewer options for college.
Across the country, state colleges and universities are dealing with reduced budgets by reducing enrollment. Meanwhile applications swelled this year as many families focused on state schools, feeling they couldn't afford more expensive private colleges. In California, what was once one of the best state university systems around has become almost inaccessible to all but the A+ student. The idea that a good, hard-working student should have access to quality local higher education is fading away as thousands of kids are shut out of the public universities close to home. And for many families today, living away is an expense they just can't manage. If you find yourself in this situation, be encouraged. A great education is still out there for your child -- it just might look a little different than you both envisioned.
I spoke with the President Emeritus of Pearce College, in Woodland Hills, California, about what great public higher education might look like today. He offered some surprising statistics: 50% of California State University grads and about 35% of University of California grads attended a community college before earning their bachelors degrees.
Community College Role In Higher Education
Community Colleges have always been unsung heroes. For a hundred years, they have offered higher education at bargain basement prices to all comers, whatever your goal, whatever your circumstance. Unfortunately, a lot of us have some misconceptions about what these schools do best.
Here in California, as UC and CSU cut enrollment, students have been driven to the community colleges. Although budgets have been terrible for ALL public schools, community colleges have remained strong, mainly because nearly all of the community college budget goes to supporting class offerings. While the cuts have been significant, the priority to protect student access to classes has driven decision making. The community colleges have reduced class sections and that does make getting some classes harder. Still, it's not difficult to get the General Education classes needed for transferring. The first semester is usually the toughest since many students don't apply until late in the process and, therefore, are faced with more closed classes. A motivated student who files an application early and sees a counselor usually won't have any problems, though they may need to be flexible.
Community College, Transfer Advantage
Community colleges can bridge the gap left by our bigger public universities with programs that provide for automatic transfers into the most prestigious state schools as long as you keep your grades up. Many state university systems put community college transfers who meet certain criteria at the top of their list -- above transfers from within the state university system or other institutions. In California, for example, students with 60 community college units get priority over freshmen and their transfer GPA can be around 3.0 instead of the 4.0+ necessary from high school.
So there is a way to get your kid's college plans back on track and even get into that great university he or she has their heart set on. But what's the reality like? My next article looks at what kind of education you can expect from your community college, and what about "college life"?