Community colleges offer smarter education

by Tomas Nieto

MCT Campus

Universities aren’t for everyone. With recent budget cuts, tuition has risen and admission requirements for a four-year university have become stricter. However, community colleges are a viable option for a higher education often overlooked and unappreciated. In 2010, President Barack Obama praised community colleges as “the unsung heroes” of the U.S. education system. Community colleges offer many lower division classes equivalent to those at San Diego State. This allows students to discover which major is truly right for them, thanks to the large number of programs the California Community Colleges System offers.

SDSU is four-year university, but its students still have to take general education and prerequisite classes during their first few years in college. Lower division classes make up most of the curriculum of the general education and prerequisite classes at the community college level. This means SDSU students can take classes they need at a lower price. Up to 70 units may be transferred, which usually accounts for most of the general education requirements for a bachelor’s degree at SDSU.

Students at SDSU generally take 12 to 15 units per semester. Full time undergraduate tuition for Fall 2012 is more than $3,500. Community college tuition is $46 per unit. Students at a community college pay less than $700 for a 15-unit semester. This makes the CCC system a good option for students who need financial help finishing their general education requirements. Students also save money by living at home. There are several community colleges in the San Diego area. Community college students reduce the cost of living by commuting to campus. Even with rising gas prices, it’s cheaper than living in a residence hall.

College students don’t often know what career to pursue. Community colleges offer a chance to discover one’s interest by offering relatively low tuition. Students who struggle financially often think they must rush through their degree to avoid the cost of staying extra semesters to complete their programs. Consequently, they might end up choosing a major not suited to their interests. By exploring different subjects in community college, students can take interesting classses, without worrying about monetary costs.

Community colleges also offer the option of earning an associate degree. Associate degrees can be earned in two years. These degrees usually consist of 20-30 units of major specific courses, plus general education classes. The classes are usually similar to general education and prerequisite classes of lower division courses at SDSU. This allows students to align their courses to fulfill their lower-division requirements while potentially earning one or more associate degrees.

A community college education is often thought of as inferior to a four-year university. However, community colleges offer many vocational programs necessary to compete in highly desirable fields. Southwestern College in Chula Vista offers associate degrees in emergency medical technology and paramedics, paralegal studies and many other vocations. This establishes community colleges as institutions outside of traditional academia. They cater to students who are looking to enter fields requiring specialized skills in an economical and time-efficient way.

The CCC system does have its flaws. In March, the Los Angeles Times reported the CCC lost $564 million in funding to recent budget cuts. The only path community colleges have to cope with these losses is cutting classes and raising the per unit cost. This makes it harder for students to get the classes they need. However, considering the relatively inexpensive tuition compared to a four-year university and the abundance of community colleges in California (more than 120 campuses) it still an option worth considering.

Community colleges offer many opportunities for students planning to transfer to a four- year university, as well as for students already attending one. It is a financially efficient way for students to earn transferable units to fulfill lower division requirements while earning associate degrees. Self-discovery is a major part of the college experience. However, financial restraints limit options for many students. Community colleges offer an alternative for a quality higher education on a budget.