The spring semester is a time of change and choices for many high school seniors. The warm weather marks the beginning of spring fever and an eagerness to start a new journey towards a college education. For graduating high school seniors across the country, their journey begins with financial aid, scholarship and college applications. As a former high school teacher, one of my key roles was to guide my graduates as they made their decisions about their future college careers, and the two factors that seemed to determine their future college path were affordability and the ability to assimilate into a new educational setting.
The financial challenges that some students fear when deciding on their college of choice can keep students from enrolling into college immediately from high school. Students who worry about how to fund their education might take comfort in attending a community college for their first two years, because the cost of attending a two-year college versus a four-year university is significantly less. In a report from College Board, “Trends in College Pricing 2014 Report,” the breakdown of costs from a two-year college to a private four-year non-profit school is shown below:
2014 – 2015 School Year
Public, Two-year In-District
Public, Four-Year In-State
Public, Four-Year Out-of-State
Private, Four-Year Non-Profit
Tuition and Fees
Room and Board
Total Tuition, Fees, Room and Board
Source: College Board, Annual Survey of Colleges
Affordability is a major concern for future and current college goers, and avoiding the student loan trap is a real factor when determining their school of choice. Furthermore, because college readiness is defined as being academically prepared and having the soft skills needed to be successful in college, some students might find a major four-year university with thousands of students intimidating in their first two years of college life (Pitre & Pitre, 2009). Additionally, first-generation college students may not have parental support on which to lean, to make the right choice for their future. According to Hudley et al. (2009), “High school graduates whose parents never attended college enrolled in college within 2 years of completing high school at lower rates (59%) than graduates with two parents who completed college (93%).” Therefore, the decision to enter college immediately after high school might rest mainly on students, teachers and guidance counselors, if students have no parental encouragement from home.
For those students who make the choice to pursue a college degree, enrolling in a community college could help ease the anxiety of financial woes, being first-generation college goers and feeling displaced among a sea of practiced college-goers. “Having less exposure to the college-going culture causes difficulty in assimilating into the college setting both academically and socially” (Hudley et al. 2009). Consequently, attending community college can offer students the opportunity to enter into higher education without the pressure of feeling out of place, overwhelmed in a new environment, unprepared to tackle the rigor of a college classroom, and self-conscious about their ability to “cut it” in a new educational setting.
Because the first two years of a college student’s life is about personal growth, developing self-esteem, building a professional and social rapport with professors and peers, honing soft skills, and essentially learning how to be a successful college student, some people might find a community college environment a wonderful stepping stone into the world of academia and higher learning. Hence, the following types of people can all benefit from attending a community college:
· First-generation college goers
· Second language speakers
· People with nontraditional educational backgrounds (i.e., home schoolers and alternative schoolers)
· People who struggle with social skill development or academic integration
· People who are unsure of their career path
Providing a sound, welcoming experience to those students who embark upon a college degree is the first step towards retaining students who will, at the end of their two-year journey, transition confidently to a major university. As a community college professor, this is one of my key goals each semester. If my students who step into the classroom on their first day can walk away feeling hopeful and positive about the semester, and eventually about their two years studying at Houston Community College, then I know I will have done my job. Community college, for many first-year students, is a terrifying initiation into higher learning, so I owe it to my students to make their experience meaningful, so that they might transition to their university of choice with all the confidence, self-assurance, knowledge, and social and academic growth they will need to fulfill their goal of completing a college degree.