Your institution only accepts twelve percent of applicants? That’s cool. You know what I think is cooler?
Keeping education accessible to all.
As college tuition has steadily increased over the past decade, people have finally started recognizing community college as a viable alternative to four-year colleges and universities. Whether it is a precursor to a four-year school, an opportunity for specialized career training or a means of getting a degree, community colleges have so much more to offer than they get credit for.
The most apparent benefit of community college is its affordability. For reference, the average cost of a year’s in-state tuition at UNC-Chapel Hill is $7,019, while a year’s tuition at Durham Technical Community College is $2,432. That’s more than an $18,000 difference over four years. That cost difference doesn't even account for the additional costs of room and board required by a four-year university.
With the same access to loan options and scholarships, when it comes to cost, community college is far more affordable than four-year universities.
Cheaper tuition costs are fantastic, but it is far from all community colleges have to offer.
Another amazing opportunity they provide is workforce training. Many people simply have no interest in pursuing a four-year bachelor's degree, and they should not be punished for it. Compared to four-year universities, community colleges tend to offer a greater selection of career programs for specialties ranging from mechanics to firefighting. Programs like these allow people to be workforce-ready in half the time and for a fraction of the cost.
Lower costs and career training are just a few benefits of community college. Add in great flexibility for those working and you are probably thinking, "Wow this community college thing is a really great opportunity. There couldn’t possibly be any stigma surrounding the choice to save money and/or train for a specialized career."
But there is!
According to the Community College Research Center, 33 percent of undergraduate students enrolled in higher education were in community colleges during the 2020-21 academic year. On top of that, 49 percent of students who earned bachelor’s degrees in the 2015-16 year had previously enrolled at a two-year college.
Although it's clear that many people take advantage of the benefits of a community college education, I believe even more could benefit from what it has to offer. And yet the stigma persists. So, what can we do to finally bring it to an end?
First, it is time to start promoting community college as a primary option instead of a fallback. Throughout grade school, children are constantly told that going to a four-year university is the way to success. Community college is scarcely mentioned and often seen as a "worst-case scenario" in the rare instances it is brought up.
Another barrier that two-year schools are looking to tear down is educational elitism. This has become a persisting issue as the cost of college tuition has skyrocketed. High costs and low admittance rates have become associated with the "quality" of an institution, leading to ridiculous competitiveness that only furthers this issue.
It's not a bad trait of community colleges that they accept every applicant with high school diplomas or equivalent credentials who are looking to further their education.
Educational elitism is alive and well here at UNC. The institution and its students pride themselves on the "prestige" that comes with the Carolina name.
Having school pride is awesome. Being pretentious is not.
Students coming to UNC from community colleges and even other universities are looked at differently. There is a comical notion that transfer students got in the "easy way," or that they are somehow beneath four-year students in the imagined university hierarchy.
No matter where you are, student or not, I encourage you to think twice next time you start making assumptions about those who started their journey through higher education at a community college. Because, to quote everyone’s favorite fictional MIT janitor from Good Will Hunting, at the end of the day, you are the one who spent thousands of dollars more on an education you "could have gotten for $1.50 in late fees at the public library."
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