Many Americans on the road to achieving a higher education utilize community colleges as pit-stops, if not final destinations. They are places where a recent high school graduate or a second-career starter can receive a college education conveniently and at a fairly inexpensive tuition rate.
In fact, 45 percent, nearly half, of undergraduates throughout the United States are enrolled at a community college, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.
“I took a year off after graduating from high school. When I decided to go back to school, I wasn’t really ready to go to a four year college; so, I went there to prepare myself and some basic courses out of the way,” Laura Barber, senior psychology and sociology major, said.
Despite the large enrollment numbers and the low tuition cost, in the past, community colleges have been the topic of dissension. Everything from their curriculum to their advising services had been condemned. Now, nationwide, these colleges are acknowledging their shortcomings.
“They have always been very proud of their role of providing access, of opening doors to college for a broad range of students,” but until recently, “there’s been, frankly, less attention paid to what happens once they get into college,” Thomas Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University in New York said in an article written by Stacy Teicher for The Christian Science Monitor.
For Laura Barber, senior psychology and sociology major, Bucks County Community College served as a stepping-stone, offering her the opportunity to glide back into the world of higher learning. Though she may have been enrolling as a freshman for her fall courses at a community college, according to Barber, there was no doubt in her mind that she would eventually be transferring into a four-year college or university.
“A couple of weeks into the fall semester I had already applied to several colleges. Because I had an idea of what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go, I did the research myself using my course catalog. I really only met with my advisor once,” Barber said.
A survey conducted by the Community College Leadership Program a the University of Texas, Austin, showed that nearly 30 percent of part-time students say that they don’t use the advising services at their school.
The American Association of Community Colleges calculates that 60 percent of undergraduates attending community colleges are enrolled as part-time students.
Insufficient advising or a lack of guidance, according to Spencer, creates obstacles for those community college students who intend to transfer into a four-year college or university.
As a result, many accredited colleges and universities have partnered with community colleges to create compatible curriculums.
Over the years, Cabrini has developed core-to-core agreements with area community colleges, which include but are not limited to Montgomery County Community College, Delaware County Community College and Community College of Philadelphia.
“When I was ready to leave Bucks County, I looked through my course catalog to find the list of all the schools that would accept the credits that I had accumulated and Cabrini was one of them. So, I applied and here I am,” Barber said.
Community colleges are doing more than penning core-to-core agreements with four-year institutions to improve their advising and planning; many have implemented programs and activities designed to assist potential transfer students decide which school would best suit their needs.
Montgomery County Community College, for example, is one of the several area community colleges that hosts a number of partner fairs, according to Spencer. During these fairs, the community college in cooperation with their four-year partner institutions offer potential transfer students the opportunity to explore their options. While the community college designates a specific time, date and place, the partner colleges or universities such as, Cabrini send admissions counselors to assist in informing potential students.
“These events build a sense of familiarity between the four-year colleges and interested transfers, while offering them some direction; it’s a win-win situation,” Spencer said.