With all the talk about four-year colleges, it may seem to students like they face a stark choice: Either get a bachelor's degree or end up at a fast-food joint, flipping burgers for the rest of their lives. Many students fear that without a four-year degree they will be destined to work in dead-end, low-paying jobs. They worry that because they can't afford the rising cost of tuition, college is not an option for them. They often don't realize there's another way they can continue their education and secure their economic future. They can attend community college.
Created nearly 100 years ago to help produce a more skilled workforce, community colleges offer two-year degrees in a variety of skilled trades—such as healthcare, paralegal studies, plumbing, electrical work, and graphic design—and are located close to home. With the degrees, known as associate's degrees, students can enter the workplace or go on to earn a bachelor's degree by transferring to a four-year institution. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, 50 percent of new nurses and the majority of new healthcare workers are educated at community colleges; nearly 80 percent of firefighters, law-enforcement officers, and emergency medical technicians earn their credentials there; roughly 20 percent of those who receive bachelor's degrees started their higher education at community colleges; and half of all students take classes at a community college on their way to earning a bachelor's degree.
Classes at community colleges are offered at convenient times, and admissions are open, which means students can enroll regardless of their previous academic experience, although students who are not ready for college-level work must enroll in remedial classes that do not count toward an associate's degree. Low tuition also makes community college an attractive option. The average annual cost at a public community college is $2,191, a sticker price thousands of dollars cheaper than the typical four-year university.
To learn more about community colleges visit www.aacc.nche.edu or talk to your college counselor about ones near you.
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