The Community College Option

Some students are skeptical about attending community college. They shouldn’t be. The Regents of the University of California report that almost of third of those graduating from the UC System transferred from a community college: this trend will probably become even more pronounced in the years ahead as the UC tuition continues to soar and community college tuition maintains its value.

From a cost standpoint alone, attending a community college is a value. Just compare the cost of attending the University of California, Irvine (UCI) with that of Orange Coast community college (OCC) in Costa Mesa. Tuition at UCI is currently $13,122. Add room and board, books, and ‘other costs’ and the cost of attendance (COA) is $30,000. OCC has tuition for 2012-2013 of $1,324. Adding up all the other fees including estimated room and board, and the total COA is $12,568.  This is a difference of $17,000: over two years, $34,000. Add to this that the curriculum at the community college and the first two years of UCI are mostly general education courses and, that the faculty at University of California Irvine is research oriented, while the faculty at the community colleges is teaching oriented, and the community college alternative becomes still more appealing.

Regardless of the perceived value, it is still essential to enter community college (or any post-secondary institution) with a solid game plan. First off, success should be defined as getting a degree that will prepare you for work or graduate school in four years.

At community college, you will need to assert yourself. If you don’t have a major, you should be actively researching and trying to acquire one. Setting goals is essential. Glenn DuBois, the chancellor of Virginia’s community college system, a community college graduate himself, offers ideas for navigating community college experience and successfully transferring (“10 Tips for Transferring from Community College” from US News and World Report)

Plan to get an associate’s degree from the community college. This will give your academic efforts focus. Research indicates that those who do complete their associates attain their bachelors at a much higher rate.

Enroll in any available honors programs. Many, such as the honor’s program at Orange County community college, have no pre-requisites other than “a college-level command of composition skills.” In many such programs you’ll find access to smaller classes with seminar-like environments that seek to constantly improve your critical reading and writing abilities.

Plan ahead. You’ll want to attend a college that has a track record of helping a lot of students transfer into as many of the schools on your shortlist as possible. The track record of the 112 community colleges in California is on the “Transfer Pathways” site.

Learn what courses are transferable to which colleges and universities. Many colleges have what are called “articulation agreements” which clearly define what is required to gain an admissions offer. Check with the junior college you’re planning to attend to ensure it has an articulation agreement with as many of the colleges on your short list as possible.

Chose a major (again, for emphasis): the sooner you have a grasp of what it is you want to concentrate on, the quicker you can accomplish your academic requirements.

Community colleges are becoming an increasingly popular choice among recent high school graduates. Nationally, 22% of college students from families with household incomes of $100,000+ attended community college. That’s up from 16% a mere four years ago, according to a recent Sallie Mae study. There are a lot of good reasons for this jump of enrollment: costs differentials are probably the most pronounced; however, if you’re willing to plan ahead, follow an articulation plan, and select and stick to a major, you’re headed for a successful career—and it matters little where it begins.