Did anyone read The Center for Community College Student Engagement Report 2017? Maybe not, but you may have read about it on NPR’s website this morning. If you have the time, you can read the quick summary linked above. I’m going to take a moment and share my thoughts, which I think other Homeschooling for College Credit parents may find useful.
“Center for Community College Student Engagement demonstrates that students who enroll full-time in community colleges fare better than their part-time counterparts…50 percent of always-full-time students earned an associate degree or certificate. In contrast, only 23 percent of always-part-time students complete their degrees.”
The community college was my employer for 18 years. I worked for the largest district in the state of Iowa, first as a department chair and administrator, and later when I started homeschooling, as a community college teacher. Some of you may remember reading in Homeschooling for College Credit, that I was confused by the lack of love for the community college system- it serves a lot of people from all walks of life. In fact, if you’ve followed our Facebook Group, you know that I have a lot of great things to say about the community college as a system. That being said…..
The community colleges seem a little out of touch lately with their role in the education industry and seem to be having a bit of an identity crisis.
“Probably for over a decade now, there’s been a lot of conversation about getting more students to complete community college,” says Evelyn Waiwaiole, executive director for the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin. “While attending full-time will be unrealistic for every student, we need to think about why always-part-time students are having a qualitatively different experience and push for changes to be made.”
Here’s what she didn’t say- community college completion rates are somewhere around 8-12% depending on what source you reference. These rates make upper administration lose their minds- and I get it, they want to see higher numbers like those of a 4-year college (about 50-65% which is still pretty low), but what if they’re worried about the wrong thing? Not everyone uses the community college to earn an Associate of Arts degree!
Community colleges serve a purpose. They are open enrollment, which is to say that no matter your academic ability, they’ll let you sign up to learn something. Whether you take courses for credit or personal enrichment, you’re allowed to register. If you don’t have the required credentials or prerequisite test scores to take certain courses, they’ll provide those too. Community colleges provide an avenue to earn a GED as well as many quick-employment certificates that can lead to immediate job training. IN ADDITION, they also award Associate degrees.
It is my opinion that upper administration has lost sight of their role in our community, and has really started to push for all their students to earn an Associate degree. Yet, an Associate degree doesn’t always transfer to a 4-year college (depends on your state) and an Associate degree isn’t always an efficient route to a career (ex. Real Estate License requires completing a course, not a degree) and an Associate degree is usually full of general education courses- the very courses students complain about.
The report and summary go on to argue that when students attend full time vs part time, that they’re more likely to complete a degree (this shouldn’t shock anyone) so we should encourage all students to attend full time! This was the best-dressed marketing effort I’ve read this year. Of course, colleges want your student to attend full time, of course, they do. You don’t need an economics lesson from me to tell you why community colleges want to increase their enrollment or why 4-year colleges think you should skip community college and head right to their front door.
EVERYONE is fighting for your student and the dollars they bring. EVERYONE wants enrollment.
So, what does this mean for homeschooling families who want to know where the community college fits into their high school? I want to point out some reasons that I think the community college is worth your consideration. This isn’t an apologetics piece, but it’s not a criticism either- it’s simply my thoughts and opinion on how to use the community college in high school and after graduation.
For homeschooled high school teens:
- DUAL ENROLLMENT. It’s the community college is the most likely college to allow dual enrollment participation for your teen. While a few private colleges offer this option, but those programs tend to have competitive admissions or restrictive summer programs. Community college dual enrollment allows full semester enrollment that awards college credit alongside the high school credit awarded by the parent.
- VARIETY: Dual enrollment through the community college is broader than that of a 4-year college, and includes liberal arts as well as career and trade occupational courses- reflective of the kinds of degree programs offered at the college.
- NON-CREDIT: The community college closest to you offers a nice catalog of non-credit options. These are perfectly compatible with homeschooling and can be used as a full curriculum. Best of all, non-credit options do not require the student to “apply” to the college, rather they simply “register” for the course. Examples you’ll probably find locally include full sequences of foreign languages, computer programs, and even those that lead to licensure or certifications (property management, real estate, nursing assistant, EMT, and others) The entrance requirement is usually “age 16” however exceptions can sometimes be made.
- TUITION BREAKS: Some states have community college (or public 4-year college) funding that allows high school students to take courses for free or reduced tuition. Call your local community college to see if your state has this program.
- DISTANCE LEARNING: Community colleges have really embraced distance learning and a number Homeschooling for College Credit families use community colleges from all over the country. In other words, you can live in any state and take advantage of the super-low tuition offered through New Mexico’s community college system (about $40/credit).
- TESTING CENTER: If you’re looking for a CLEP or DSST testing center, it’s probably at your community college. Typically, community colleges have lower proctoring fees than the 4-year colleges.
- TRANSFER-FRIENDLY: Universities in your state almost always all dual enrollment and summer credit earned in high school to transfer to their university. If they don’t, it’s probably because they don’t accept transfer credit as a general policy, not because of the community college.
- PRESERVING FRESHMAN SCHOLARSHIPS: Credit earned while enrolled in high school almost never counts “against” freshman status, leaving your teen eligible for freshman scholarships. Typically, the credit earned during high school is applied once the student is already enrolled and sometimes after completion of the first semester. In other words, they enroll as a freshman, and after 1 semester may be bumped to a sophomore or junior.
- HIGHER LEVEL COURSES: If your teen finishes calculus or French 4 by sophomore year in high school, you’re probably going to have a hard time locating a suitable higher level course. For those students, it makes sense to enroll in the community college and access no only college credit, but classes at a higher level.
For homeschool graduates:
- OPEN ENROLLMENT: The community college will enroll your homeschool graduate. The entire “college application process” can be removed from your equation, and your teen can simply register for classes. In the case of not meeting a certain benchmark for a certain class, the community college will provide a pathway to make it happen. For instance, if your teen never finished Algebra 1, never took the SAT, and struggles through math, they can still enroll. There are no essays, interviews, SAT scores, letters of reference, etc. The college welcomes all students and places them in the level they need, even if the level is lower than “college level.”
- TRANSCRIPT ACCEPTANCE: You can be sure that your homeschool transcript will be accepted at your community college.
- LAST MINUTE ENROLLMENT: Applying a year ahead of enrollment is great if you have a target college in mind, but community colleges allow application and enrollment even through the first week of classes- assuming there is space.
- ENTRANCE TESTING: The majority of community colleges offer their own entrance test at no charge. This test, taken on your own schedule, is to assess writing, reading, and math level. There is no way to “fail” this test, though doing well is obviously better for your student. Students who have taken high school tests like ACT or SAT can sometimes use those in place of entrance testing.
- CLEP/AP/DSST AWARDS: The majority of community colleges award college credit by exam for CLEP, AP, and DSST. While policies vary, it is unusual that they would award little to nothing (if that’s the case, pick a different community college).
- ACCREDITATION: Community colleges are all regionally accredited, that is the gold standard. Note that not all 2-year colleges are community colleges and not all 4-year colleges are regionally accredited!
- ARTICULATION: About half of the states have articulation agreements in place, which are formal contractual agreements between the community college and the state’s public colleges. These agreements guarantee transfer of certificates, diplomas, degrees, or courses. It’s also worth emphasizing that about half of the states don’t have articulation agreements, but if yours does, this is a huge bonus.
- GED / HIGH SCHOOL EQUIVALENCY: If your student wants a GED, prep courses and advisement are available (almost always for free) through your community college. Most community colleges offer the exam as well. In addition, some of the new high school equivalency exams are worth 10 college credits.
- CERTIFICATES: Unlike a 4-year university, community colleges have “bite-sized” programs that issue certificates or certification after as few as 1 class. These are usually directed toward job training or a specialization (forklift certification, graphic design, etc.) Sometimes, the classes inside of a certificate will transfer into a larger diploma or degree at the same college.
- TERMINAL DEGREES: The term “terminal degree” means that the degree has an ending point, in other words, there is not education beyond the terminal degree. Often, you’ll hear a Ph.D. referred to as a “terminal degree” because there is no degree higher, but at a community college, Associate of Applied Science and Associate of Occupational Studies are also terminal degrees. These degrees are not intended to transfer to a 4-year college, the degree is the highest training in that industry, and at the completion of the degree, the student enters their career. Besides an AA or AS degree, almost every degree at the community college is a terminal degree.
- STUDENT SUPPORT SERVICES: Unlike 4-year colleges, a community college sees a huge population that needs special support. Whether it’s simple tutoring or accommodating a diagnosed disability, the community college is excellent at serving this segment of our population.
- AGE LIMITS: Community colleges serve students from age 10-100 and attending classes on campus will likely expose your teen to people of all ages. While the 4-year colleges serve the traditionally aged student (17-22), it’s not unusual to see a huge age range in any community college classroom. We have Homeschooling for College Credit families with very young teens taking classes (as young as 12) and as a teacher, I’ve had retired senior citizens in my classes- they were some of my best students!
- COST: Community college is almost always the lowest cost option for traditional college attendance. The average cost of tuition at a community college is $100 per credit, so an average course (3 credits) will cost you roughly $300 plus books. While this is a lot more expensive than some of the methods we talk about here (CLEP, AP, DSST, Straighterline, Saylor, etc.) those cost saving methods are alternatives that aren’t good options for everyone. On your basic English 101 taken on campus with an instructor, your community college is likely to be your most affordable option. As such, you should know community colleges WANT you to stay local. They often hike the prices beyond belief when you are out of the district or out of state. If you can’t attend your local community college, all cost promises are off the table.
- PELL GRANTS = FREE TUITION: A Pell Grant is a financial need-based grant given to eligible students who have filled out the FAFSA financial aid application. Grants don’t have to be repaid, so if your student qualifies for a Pell Grant, it will absolutely go the farthest at your community college. Some quick math- a full Pell Grant award in 2017 is $5,575.00 That means, if your teen qualifies and attends college full time, they should receive $5,575.00 If you divide that by the number of credits you’d complete as a full-time student in 1 year (30), you’ll get $185.83. That means, that your student’s Pell Grant will pay full tuition if your college’s per credit rate is under $185.83! (know that the average in-state 4-year university charges about $300 per credit, and the average private 4-year university charges about $1100 per credit!)