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October 27, 2010


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When I transferred into a "pestigious university" the dean flat out told me that transferring in was a much simpler matter than applying in high school. My past history had no bearing on their admission statistics and thus....I was in (no risk to the school - with my tuition in their pocket).

Most community colleges have arrangements with the 4 year state colleges (same state) regarding credit transfers, but after that it gets dicey as to whether or not your credits transfer, it all boils down to somebody deciding whether or not the course description is close enough to a course description at the college you are applying to. If your college track is going to take you to your state college system, then community college is viable option, other wise I wouldn't risk wasting my time.

I had no problem transferring from a community college to a slightly selective 4-year school. I even got a sizable merit scholarship from the 4-year school. If a student excels in high school and in community college they should have no trouble getting into a good 4-year school, even a selective one (although the Ivy League schools are almost impossible to get into for anyone, including community college transfers).

I went the CC-to-BigU route and it worked out wonderfully. First, I wasn't even planning on going to college but instead join the military right out of HS. When I found out I was eligible for education benefits because my dad is a disabled vet it was already a month until I graduated HS. There was absolutely no way I was getting into a BigU the following fall. My local CC accepted my application and admitted me within a few days and I was starting summer school the week after I graduated.

I had absolutely no idea what I was going to major in and used the 2 years to try pretty much everything. It wasn't until my last quarter at the CC that I decided on physics/astronomy. I was able to use the 2 years to discover what I was decently good at and enjoyed. All while living at home, saving money on tuition and living costs and socking away money for the BigU.

The best part was that the CCs at the time had a Direct Transfer Agreement with the public schools. The agreement stipulated that any student who graduated from an instate CC and applied to a public U would get automatic admittance. If the major you wanted was competitive you had to apply separately but you were guaranteed a spot at the school somewhere. I found out later that I was part of the last class to be able to use the DTA which is too bad because it was a great program.

I graduated with less than $10,000 in student loans only because I stopped working after the CC while I was attending the BigU. I could have easily kept working at a work study or something for those 2 years as well. I just got lazy.

I would disagree on community colleges for science/engineering oriented schools. The top schools will take a calculus oriented approach from the very first day, while other schools will just focus on algebraic formulas that represent the principles. You will get cremated if you transfer as a junior to one of these schools and haven't had the same calculus based approach.

In general, science/engineering programs tend to be a lot more rigorous and structured- you may have a hard time transferring into and out of these programs.

I attended a 4 year school, took as many credits as I could each semester, and took additional classes at my local community college each summer. I even got to study abroad. All it takes is careful planning and you can save money and have a great experience!

Concerning myth #1, not only is CC instruction as good as big U. instruction, but I contend it is usually better for freshmen. Why? Because most professors at big universities hate to teach lower level courses, and if you hate doing something, you probably aren't doing a great job at it.

Kevin is absolutely right. For hard science majors, the CC route is not an option. Maybe it is for poli sci and sociology majors.

FMF, you keep bringing up this topic. Maybe you should ask your readers who went that route to share some details of how their careers are progressing.

I sat in on an economics class in community college for a friend of mine who was sick, so I went and took notes for her. The class had only 20 students or so, and I felt it was better taught than the class I took at a major university (that class has 120 students).

Community college is a great transitional step for many. Some kids aren't ready to go away to school, or maybe feel overwhelmed at the prospect. There are a lot of pressures out there, and college is notorious for drinking and all kinds of things. I will encourage my kids to go away to college, and I pray they make good decisions. However, if they wanted to stay home and get their prereqs out of the way, I would be ok with that too. (And also put a lot of money in the bank!)

Myth #5- Community college is the same as attending a real college.

I dont believe everyone should attend a 4 year college. I dont believe a trade school or a community college is a bad choice. However, if your objective is to get a college degree, start at the University where you want the degree. The opportunity cost of attending a community college is far greater than the few extra grand it costs to start at the place you want to finish.

If you can, dont live at home. Spend the money to live with roommates near the campus.

In most cases, college is not about education- get a library card if education is the only objective.

I agree with Kevin and Pop,

For hard science majors the idea that the first 2 years are all fluff doesn't hold any water to me.

I was a com sci major and immediately starting taking classes in my major course requirements first quarter of my freshman year. In my first year I was taking operating system design and construction.

I also contend that if there is any truth to myth #1 for other majors that just proves my point that for many degrees the idea that it takes 4 years to graduate is a travesty. Why do you need 2 years of "generals" What the heck was the last 13 years of secondary school supposed to be for.

Any advice that starts out with the concept that basically these 2 years are fluff and don't really matter anyway so you can do it anywhere indicates a serious flaw in the system. And for hard science majors is flat out very very wrong.

I will go so far as to argue (and step on toes) that if your major allows you to have the first 2 years be almost entirely fluff and still graduate in 4, then your whole major is fluff, pick a real one. Oh but I forgot, the author argues that majors don't matter and you should pick a fluff one to get a better GPA. I guess at least that is consistent with the first 2 years of fluff at the fluff school.

Apex- totally agree. Why in the world do students need 2 years of crap classes? My degree was in finance and less then 25% of my classes were in finance. (total waste of time and money.)

"we need to get everyone to the same level" is a common argument by administrators. The college system is a mess.

I agree with all of the above accept about getting financial aid. My daughter attended community college and we were unable to get any financial aid. If she had gone to a university, she would have been eligible for several grants. As is was, we paid for her college tuition so she would not have loans. She is now at a univerisity and is majoring in science. I do agree that a community college is better place to learn the basics since the teachers do take the time to be there for their students and usually get to know them by name and really want them to succeed.

I agree with them in general. I think CC's can be a good option.

But theres details of course. You can't just go to any CC and expect to get a world class education. And what you get out of CC is based mostly on what you as a student put into it.
Honestly I think that a typical CC education will not prepare you as well to transfer into a demanding major at a 'good' university. I saw the quality of education at 3 different public universities in my state and 2 of the four year universities didn't keep up with the 'good' one as far as quality of education / preparedness and theres no way CC's could do so. This is not to say you'll get a 'bad' education from a CC but you have to find a good one and work hard and I would still NOT expect it to be equal to a 'good' university.

#1 You do have to go to a good community college and some are not very good.
#3 Knowing that credits transfer UP FRONT is the thing people don't do very well which makes transferring difficult. You also have to apply and be accepted to the 4 year college in question.
#4 I'd want to see that study the author mentions. CC transfers are often a very different demographic and I'd be curious if the study took other factors into consideration.

I agree with the others who say this won't work as well in engineering or hard science.

I can easily believe that the CC could replace 2 years for intro level and pre-req classes. However, classes were only part of my college education. I was also learning how to handle my own money, schedule my life by myself, do my own laundry (in a laundromat), plan meals, evaluate housing/rooming options and consequences, meet and live with strangers (and sometimes just strange people :-> ), job hunt, and try a variety of different activities to see what I actually enjoyed. Being away from home meant that I figured out how make things work without parental help or influence (or nagging to get things done). This was invaluable in learning to be an independent and responsible adult - which has been far more important in my career than which major I had.

I don't know how this works in a CC environment, or if you split time between CC and a 4-year school. Could somebody who has dealt with this comment? I'm curious.

One thing not mentioned is that if you do really well in a CC you have more scholarships open up to you. There are scholarships out there that universities give themselves to kids that have proven them selves in a CC.

I believe that going to a CC is also doable for a hard science major. It worked for me. I was able to take the entire calculus series, linear algebra, diff-eq, multivariable calculus, entire calc based physics series, a basic chem course and a handful of comp sci courses all in addition to taking a large portion of the gen-ed courses later required by the BigU. Later when I was at the BigU I took upper level courses that didn't feel all that much harder than the courses I took at the CC and I certainly felt like the CC courses prepared me well for them. I think the CC route is very beneficial regardless of major.

Do you mind mentioning the name of the BigU?

As a community college administrator, my opinion is obviously biased, but I strongly disagree with the premise that hard science majors should not attend a community college. Our college offers calc-based physics and chemistry classes, as well as the calculus sequence, differential equations and linear algebra. All these course are taught by professors who have earned their Ph.D. At several universities these courses are taught by graduate assistants. The quality of education the students receive is excellent and they excel when they transfer to such public universities as University of Illinois.


Are you aware of any CCs that offer engineering courses?

I did 2 years at a CC. Transferred to a state U and got to do 4 more years because of the prerequisite based system for mechanical engineering.

Joe B,
We offer pre-engineering courses and have an articulation set up with several state universities. I live in Illinois so we have a system called IAI (Illinois Articulation Initiative) that guarantees the courses will transfer provided the school participates in the IAI. All state universities in Illinois do participate, along with a few private universities. As this article mentions, it is the responsibility of the student and their advisor to make sure the courses will be accepted prior to transfer. It sounds like you were the victim of bad advisement and that is very frustrating (and expensive) indeed.

As to JT and Kat's comments in contradiction to my comments that CC doesn't work for hard science majors, I will say the following:

If the CC can offer things that are required by the major (such as calc based physics etc) and offer some of the basic courses directly related to the major such as beginning programming for com sci etc, then it could work.

The reason I am opposed to it is the reason often given of getting the generals out of the way. If I have to pack 4 sessions of intense major based classes into each semester because all I got out of the way in CC was the generals then there are both scheduling problems and work load problems.

If I can take courses directly tied to my major in CC then it may be feasible to graduate in 4 years.


Did you take 2 years at CC and then graduate with your degree in something hard science related after 2 more years at BigU? If you did, then that's good evidence for your argument.

The bottom line is this: community college is often the only viable post-secondary option for some families, financially. With the average cost of tuition at a four year university growing by 8-10% each year this is burden a good number of people can't take on. If students are advised correctly and research where they plan to transfer after they complete one-to-two years at the CC then this transition can be relatively seamless.


That's good to know. From your experience are some CC far better than others at both offering the right courses and making sure those courses transfer to the typical 4 year colleges that would be chosen after the CC?

What percent do you think have a rich complement of courses and have arrangements that ensure the credits transfers?

How does one research the good ones to ensure everything will be seamless?


As in anything, there are some schools that are better than others in both preparation and research of transfer. As I stated earlier, we are very lucky in Illinois to have the Illinois Articualtion Initiative to help students determine what will and won't transfer. There is also the system utilized in different states to help students determine what classes will transfer among different schools.

I do not know what percent of schools have specific agreements that ensure transfer. I recommend students choose one or two universities they hope to transfer to and contact that school BEFORE they start at the community college. This way they establish a dialogue with an advisor at the four-year university early and that school will typically work with them to determine what will transfer. In my experience, I have found the public universities to be much more willing to work with transfer students when compared to the private institutions I have dealt with.

And its still a community college... The JV, the B team. You can tell us that PhDs teach the classes and they use the same text books and that classes transfer etc but you cant get around the fact that its still a second tier institution. You cant get around the fact that your peers in the classroom are of less value on average. (GPA, skills, motivation, social network, insightful classroom discussion, etc)

The instructor at Harvard might be a little better, beyond that, the only real difference is your peers. CC- weak peers.

Go to the institution where you want the piece of paper. Spent your entire time there. Make one mistake in planning with CC credits and you will blow any financial advantage you thought existed.

Avoid the risk of missing an opportunity or screwing something up by attending a CC when your intention is to go to another institution. Penny smart, dollar dumb.

By the way, I took a few classes at a CC when I was in school because I didnt want poor performance in those classes to have any effect on my GPA. I didnt go for financial reasons. I didnt go because I thought the classes were of equal quality. I went because it was a strategic move in the game of college degrees.

I can tell you that there are both high quality students and those that may fall in the lower tier of academic excellence that attend a CC, but you will find this at any post-secondary institution, short of the Ivy leagues. We have students that have score 30+ on their ACT exams are are in the top ten percent of their graduating class. These students have scholarsip offers at four-year universities but choose the CC for the smaller class sizes, tution price, and many just don't have the social maturity to transfer to a bigger four-year university. To characterize students that attend a CC as less intelligent simply shows a lack of understanding of all the issues.

"only 26% of community college students who expressed an intention to obtain a 4 year bachelors degree had a bachelors degree 9 years later." That sounds like a dead end path to me. (in the same study, 73% of students who were attending a 4 year university had the degree 9 years later.)

The same study found that people who had an associates degree and a bachelors degree (the 26% above) earn between $2,600 and $9,100 LESS than the people who started at a 4 year program.

So attended a CC means you are less likely to obtain your goal of a 4 year degree AND if you do obtain the 4 year degree, you will likely earn less. Sounds like an easy decision to me.

So Kat, you are willing to argue that your stats for this year's freshmen class matches or exceeds the major state university in your state? U of I? I highly doubt it.

By the way, I am a big fan of CC and I dont think a college degree is always a good choice. But one must understand the decisions one is making.

University of Illinois is a selective university with 30,00 plus students so their pool of students will naturally have a higher percentage of students with a better GPA and test scores. My point was to characterize CC students as less than bright when compared to those that go straight to the four-year university is short-sighted.

Department of Education reports that the US average to receive a degree in 7 years is approximately 56%, my state of Illinois is 58.9% with the highest graduation rate being the state of Massachusetts at 69.1% We can come up with any data to back up our claims. But again, the point I am trying to make has little to do with graduation rates and everything about characterizing CC students as less than average. A good number of students I work with transfer and graduate with a bachelors degree within five years and go on to be employed in their field of choice. The CC was the right choice for them and it is my job to ensure they get what the came for when they attend my institution.

I think if you review my post you will find that I said CC students are peers of less value and are weak.

I think you should review your statistics class- 30,000 students doesnt mean it will have higher GPA or data than an institution with 5,000 students. So "Naturally" is likely incorrect.

Im sure some CC students are very bright. I'm sure some of them are more intelligent than the average U of I student. But on average, the classroom of a CC will have lower quality students than a classroom at U of I or most 4 year institution. If I had to guess, the breakdown of your freshmen class is below any 4 year institution in your state. Thus, its fair to say the general quality of one's classmates at your CC is below that of 4 year programs.

"A good number" is hardly a data point.

The study I referenced is from the St Louis Fed. I think you should review what I said because I wasnt talking about graduation rates by state.

Ill say it again in a different way: 100 of your students said they wanted to get a batchlors degree and you said you would help them accomplish that objective. 9 years later, of those 100 students who wanted more, only 26 had accomplished their goal. Of those 26 students, most of them were making $2k-9k less than the people who walked at graduation with a batchlors degree.

Wow this seems to be a somewhat heated topic.

My only real complaint about CC probably has nothing to do with CCs in general. No advising, counseling or guidance was ever offered with respect to choosing classes, choosing majors, transferring or graduating. The only thing ever stressed was financial aid.

On the bright side I didn't take any student loans while attending CC, I got by on a Pell Grant. My four years at a state U is a completely different financial story.

As far a fellow students, the CC was okay. There were students who didn't want to be there and students who did.

Since I have had the experience of CC and state U, I will send my kids to the U directly because CC is an easy place to lose motivation.

@Joe B,

And I notice you still spent 4 years at the State U. Which is back to my original point. CC has to be able to allow you to still get done in 4 years total or it isn't saving you money and is preventing you from getting out there an earning money.

I still suspect that takes a very dedicated, diligent, and motivated student to pull it off and a very wise choice of CC. Not that it can't be done but I would like to know how many who go the CC route actually do finish with a University degree 4 years after starting CC and especially in the hard sciences. My suspicion is that is an extremely low number.


According to a study by the St Louis Fed, 26% of people at a CC who state their objective is to obtain a bachelors degree actually complete said degree within 9 years. So the number is 26%. Only 26 out of 100 who want it, get it. Hard sciences... less than 1% would be my guess. Its pointless to attend a CC if you want hard sciences.

If you want a bachelors degree DONT go to CC. 74% dont get it.

Does this ratio really surprise anyone? Joe B is one of the 26- he should be very proud of what he overcame.


I don't think the number is anywhere near 26%. That study gives them 9 years. I am giving them 4. If they don't do it in four then they are spending more time and more money in school so if the whole point is to save money you have to do it in 4 or you didn't save money.

So I would love to see how many do it in 4. And of those how many are in hard science. A very small numbers I am sure.

Sorry I misunderstood. Yeah- it cant be a very high number. We can all do this math but lets say 1/3 of the 26% get their degree in 4 years. Roughly 15% of all Bachelors degrees were science/engineering. so .33*.26*.15= 1.3% (high end) of students who graduated in 2008 started at a CC, graduated in 4 years, and had a degree in engineering or hard science.

Most engineering/science students dont graduate in 2 years and I bet they tend to start and end at a 4 year program so its got to be much lower then 1.3%

and then i also looked at 'trends in college pricing 2010' from the college board.

@Kevin & Pop - I disagree - I took both Calc 3 & Differential Equations at a community college, and had no problems having them transfer into a top engineering school. In fact, my differential equations professor at the community college was one of the electrical engineering professors at the university.

Most colleges have multiple levels of physics & chemistry that you can take - algebra based or calculus based - and obviously you need to take the calc based one. But in my experience, the community college courses were not easier.

Also, most community colleges know exactly what local state schools their classes will transfer too, so you just need to check first.

CC gets a bad rap from High School Kids/Administrators for two reasons:

1. Kids want to get away from their parents so that they can party without supervision.
2. High School Administrators hold the "you won't get into a good college" attitude over their students heads in order to increase their school's test scores.

It's all so very self serving. My son will graduate from CC this semester with honors. He has been admitted to a highly selective University for his BA. He has matured and figured out his course of study. He was admitted to a less selective University out of High School, but is so glad that he waited. His lower division classes were smaller in size at his CC and some of his professors were moonlighting from the local Universities, so he had the same teachers and course of study. Many of his University bound high school buddies came home with a big fat bill in their hands....

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