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September 09, 2009


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My husband is on the faculty at a state university and says that the education at the community colleges is not as good as at the university. At least in the sciences, the students transferring in are ill-prepared, according to him.

Yes--community colleges do a LOT of very, very remedial work. That's a fine service to provide to the community, actually, but I don't think you are doing yourself any favors if you're ready for college-level work and find yourself bogged down in classes full of people who are struggling at a lower level. (And residential? I'm sure the experience varies, but the community colleges I knew of growing up were all basically commuter schools. Which makes sense if your market is working adults with their own families, but would be dispiriting for your average American teenager, I think.)

Basically, I think this author overestimates (a) the ability of the community college to provide courses and experiences that are truly equivalent to college courses and experiences and (b) the smoothness of transfer. Honestly, if you can only get into colleges that are indistinguishable from community colleges in level of instruction offered and you're a young person, you should probably look around for some life experiences before sinking a lot of money into school.

I followed this very process nearly thirty years ago. I found the teaching staff more than adequate and the classes much smaller. Coming from a rural school where the only college prep available was instruction on how to spell the word "college", this was a far easier transistion to higher learning. In fact, of the other classmates that went directly to a state school, all dropped out and many never returned. Keep in mind that this was years ago and I am sure that things may have changed. Some schools are bad, some school are good, the same with the student body. You get want you put into it, just like everything in life.

I did lose about six hours that did not transfer to a university and that was my fault for not checking thoroughly. I was a lot more focused when I went on to a larger university and graduated with honors from that school. The cost for this plan of attack is much less and if you are lucky you can live at home and save even more money. I am sure that I missed out on a lot of campus life, but I wasn't there to win the beer pong tournament or make other magical memories. I was there to get an education and get out and get on with life. If I had to do it all over again, I would pursue the same path.

The community college option might make sense for some students who attend schools that do not prepare you for college (no AP classes, etc.) Otherwise, you can get most of the credits you would get at community college in high school, and you'll probably have better teachers as well.

The suggestion is a good one. Just be careful (as others have mentioned) about the quality of education that you will receive.

I graduated in engineering. So, I could take my art/music, science, history, etc. courses at a community college. Would I have cared that I received a lower quality of education in exchange for credit? For these courses, no, I would not have cared. On the other hand, trying to take my math courses at a community college would have been a bad idea.

Depends on whether you "just need" credits, or if you intend to learn from these classes and grow with them.

I have known some community college transfers who did really well at the state school I went to (UC Berkeley). Some others were very ill prepared and had to take another 4 years at Berkeley to get their degree. In that case they didn't really save any money. So I think it really depends on the drive and motivation of the individual student. If they slack off at community college it may be a waste of time.

I am torn on this one. I did not attend community college but spent 4 years at a university with reasonable tuition. I chose engineering and even my generals were specific. Most who came from the community college route had to take a few extra classes causing an extra semester to graduate.

My wife's Dad was a big proponent of community college to start off. All 4 in my wife's family started but never took the jump to finish. I am not blaming it all on the community college, but I do think that just taking generals at community college did not motivate them to select a major and pursue a bachelors. It seemed like they got jobs and just took generals, and that seemed to overtake their life. School became part time. When at a 4 year institution, I think you have 1 big goal of getting that bachelors degree. I was living on campus, surrounded bo school, with few distractions.

My Dad had the philosophy of where are you MOVING to go to college. I think it helped getting out of my parents house and out of my lazy high school routines into something different. My 2 cents anyways

I live in Canada and I did this. The program I started in was even titled "Bachelor of Arts University Transfer Program". It's definitely a good way to save money, and a good way to sorta ease into university if you don't want to go full throttle from a small high school to a huge campus since colleges are so much smaller. I commuted to college and then to university so it's not like I had to worry about moving out and then moving again or anything like that.

I just read the other comments, and regarding the quality of the education I didn't notice a huge difference. The university when I switched did seem a little tougher initially, but I got used to it pretty fast. A lot of the instructors switched between both institutions anyway to pick up extra work. I suppose if you go to an ivy league university there's no comparison between that and a community college, but if you go to a Canadian university (I suppose a comparison to a "state school" in the US) and a decent college, it evens out.

My husband and I both went to community college before we attended the local university. The quality of the school was on par to the universities and both schools shared professors for some courses.

It worked well for us. Being focused school wise was an internal. I got paid to attend school my first two years with my grants. Find a quality community college in your state and you can find some great deals on a good start to your post high school education.

Some of the instruction at community colleges exceeds that of universities due to the use of professional adjunct faculty, but this is usually not the kind that transfers. The hazard is you must do well to transfer. Screw-ups are better off starting where they intend to graduate because they won't be able to transfer.

Ah.. did this about 10 years ago in Canada. For me, the qualities of the lessons were higher in college, because the classes were smaller, and I got more face time with the teacher.

I would recommend this only for specific college, though. Not all college are created equal.

Community colleges are no different than 4 year colleges/universities in that you will find those that are good and those that are not optimal. Do you research regardless.

Going to a community college can save significant dollars. For me, it helped me avoid massive student debt and I only took on a $3000 loan to get through all 4 years (2 at community college and 2 at a 4 year university). Most of it was paid by saving.

I completed my first two years of schooling at a public community college before transferring to a four-year, private university. I have also been an academic adviser at a community college and I'm currently married to a community college instructor, so I've seen community college education from the inside.

I personally believe that community colleges offer a great educational experience. Class sizes are smaller and often more diverse, and the support systems are more student-focused than they are at larger schools. It's affordable, too, especially if you are able to live at home. My community college instructors were as good, if not better than, my four-year professors were. My community college instructors were focused on teaching the skills I would need to survive in the real world; my four-year university professors were too busy working on their next big publication or research project.

As a former academic adviser, I totally agree with the advice of making sure your credits will transfer. While an academic adviser will do his/her best to help you through the transfer process, it is YOUR responsibility to triple check them. If you are considering a community college you must make sure you know exactly what you want to do early on (and even where you want to transfer to), so that you don't waste valuable time and money on courses you don't need.

I've always believed that when it comes to education, you get what you put into it. You can get a fabulous education from a community college without spending a lot of money or you can sit like a lump in a giant lecture hall at a pricey four-year college. The choice is yours.

My daughter is doing this. The local community college has an excellent nursing degree and you are guaranteed entry into one of the state colleges with the credits transferring. She is living at home to cut costs, and plans to get her gen ed and the nursing degree and then get a job working as a nurse while she goes to medical school.

I think a lot of it depends on how much work you put into it. I found that out when I went to school a few years ago. There were a lot of people that I am amazed even passed, but I got a lot out of my education.

I could talk more about this but here's a short answer from just one way of looking at the issue.

It depends on the student.

If the student is kind of flakey and not a vary serious studier I can see community college with the promise of a transfer later on as being a good idea.

If the student is average then send them to a good named state college with well ranked programs in their potential major(s).

If the student is bright then they should be in the highest ranked college they can possibly get into. I wouldn't even consider tuition a factor in deciding where to send the top of the class.

I did this. I went to community college and then transferred to UC Berkley. I honestly am not sure I could have gotten in as a freshmen - its so much more competitive but as a transfer didn't seem to have a problem.

Although I went to a college prep school, CAL was hard. I don't think my preparation in high school or community college was poor but the work was just hard.

If I had to do it again? I think I would have preferred CAL from the start but I do think I probably (even with being my class validictorian and having a 3.67 4 year gpa) would not have gotten in.

My husband did this and considers it on of the best decisions he made. He was a young immigrant at the time, who spent his first several years in the US waiting tables, so wanted to be sure he could keep up the coursework while working nights etc. He ended up top of the comm college class and transferred to an excellent university - saving a fortune and having learned to navigate scholarships, build relationships with teachers, etc in the meantime. Nobody wants to think they are or were a "less mature" student but there's plenty of them out there.

Some of my friends went to community college for two years and then transferred to state college and did just fine.

Best wishes,


I went to community college and I highly recommend it to get all of the gen-ed requirements out of the way as long as you make sure they will transfer to the 4 year school. If you're going to have to take English 101 anyway, you might as well save some money if you can. In terms of quality, I feel that its a much better experience to have a small gen-ed class of 20 to 30 at a community college rather than a class of 200 or 300 3 times a week with one day a week where you might sit down with a TA. The low cost also allows you to take electives that you might not otherwise want to spend the money on which can really broaden your horizons. In addition, if you're not really sure of your major and you take a couple classes in the major and decide to change, you're not out a ton of money. During my time at community college I was able to experiment with a lot of electives, changed my major as result of one of the electives I took, and lived at home to save money.

For the most part, taking a class at a community college will be easier than taking it at the university. I spent 4 years at a state university taking a full load every semester and two of those years I also took a full load at the community college (yes - 24 credits a semester). (explanation: I had academic scholarship at the university, but athletic scholarship at the community college; loved to compete)

For classes that aren't important - and you just need to get through them, I would recommend the community college. Many of the lower level university classes are large lectures and seen as weed-out classes. Those same classes at the community college are much smaller which makes for easier learning with less pressure. But that's the rub - less pressure; you'll get through them, but you probably won't have the taxing problem or firm due dates sets as if you were at the university.

Personally, I'm a fan of the 2 year system. Knock-out those lower level classes and then go straight into the upper level classes at a university. Once those weed-out courses are completed, I don't find the upper division ones any tougher. Truthfully I feel as if the unspoken sentiment is, "we'll, you've gotten through the pre-reqs of your major, so we won't continue to make things hard on you; we can tell your serious enough.

Note: I have a liberal arts background - science may be different; I think those classes are still hard - especially at the higher levels.

This worked great for me - and I recommend it. If choosing this route I highly recommend getting the actual two year degree before transferring. It might vary from state to state and university to university, but I finished all required classes for my AA at the community college but didn't file the actual paperwork to "graduate" with my AA; and therefore my transcripts did not specify I had my AA. By filing the "apply to graduate" paperwork with the community college a month after enrolling at the university and then showing the university transcripts that said I have my AA, I saved myself from more than one semester of additional classes - even though every class I took transferred. I don't remember the specifics of why; I just remember in WA in made a difference.

I avoided all of that and went to ITT-Technical Institute. Everything is straight-forward, class sizes are very small, and all books, equipment and software is included in tuition. It will cost me $84,000 for the bachelor degree in Information Security. This is as most of the community colleges in my area find themselves overcrowded while at the same time making major cuts. Many of my friends opted for that route and are suffering, though compared to my education they are paying far less.
For me I'd rather stick to what I'm doing, a quality and guaranteed education. We have seen no cuts of any kind. And the avg. 8 person class size is great.

Yea, I did this exact same thing. Another benefit was joining the National Guard and getting my tuition paid for also. Pretty sweet deal!

I got my four-year math/engineering degree from Colorado School of Mines. The degree was very focused, as was the school; most of my electives were engineering or physics classes, with no foreign language requirements and only a few humanities requirements. Going to a community college to get general reqs out of the way would've been a waste of time, as most of the "normal" stuff people take in community college wouldn't have applied. It wouldn't have saved me money either; I was able to live at home and commute a similar distance either way, and even if I hadn't been on a nearly-full scholarship, it was not an expensive school (less than $4k/year tuition.)

The route I took came out to significantly less cost than going to community college for 2 years and then a more expensive school for 2 years, and the education I got was high quality and well focused on what I wanted to do.

If everyone started to do that, the Universities would have empty classes for their 1st and 2nd year classes.....So, I did a bit of investigation.

In a few cases, I found it worked just like you said.

In a few cases, where the students tried to get to the 'high demand Major/Minor', they were rejected. That was not cause of the scores/GPAs that they received, but cause the class were FULL. Now what?

Your plan is completely upside down, or you will spend much more in a non-local (non-resident) location than you had originally planned.

SO, here is the bottom line:

If you kid is smart, and if they are going to become a Pharmacist, Doctor, Researcher, Engineer and something 'professional', then make sure you do NOT take the chance of saving $20K per year x 2 years, and screwing the career of the child in the long run.

Just a tip, which is why I have PREPAID the tuitions for my kids in big name universities (bit the bullet and yet another one for BOTH my kids), at the cost of a lower life style for 10 years!!!!!

Good luck with your plans.....


It depends on your major as well. If you are an engineering or pre-med, then going to a good 4 year college is probably the wise choice since the science/math may be better at a bigger university. If you are going to be a teacher or social science major, then the community college is smart.

But, you must look at education as an investment. Is it wise to attend Harvard if your profession will only pay $40,000? I don't think so. However, if you want to be an investment banker (you know, the soulless lots who have screwd us in this mess)then going to Harvard may be a better investment.

Both my kids are doing the community college route. Here in So Cal the community colleges have transfer admission guaranty arrangements with the Cal State and UC schools. If you know ahead of time what university you want to transfer to, it is easy to take the applicable courses, as it is all mapped out for you.

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