Monday, November 18, 2013

The Community College Secret


By Professor Doom


“Take your first courses here. We’re much cheaper than the local university.”

--typical promotional line to get students to come to the community college first.

So there’s no real higher education in community college, but that’s not the only false promise made by these faux institutions of faux higher learning. They also promise “cheap” education, or at least cheaper than at the local university. Many are sucked in by such promises, but only a few really come out ahead.

For a small percentage of very focused students, community college does represent a real opportunity. In decades of education, these students are the only ones I’ve seen to come out ahead from community college, and they do so using a strategy that no community college advisor would give them. Allow me to share the secret:

These students first go to the university. Once they’re established there, they enter a real degree program. Then, they find out what courses specifically transfer to the university from a specific community college, and take those courses at the community college.

Seriously, the only people I’ve known to actually “save money” via a community college have gone the route in the previous paragraph. Now let me explain how and why this is the only way to do it.

Universities know full well what’s going on at a typical CC, and thus don’t transfer credit willy-nilly, claims of “accreditation makes it legit” notwithstanding. Typically a student that wants to transfer in, say, a credit for “College Algebra” has to take a placement test at the university—with my own eyes I’ve seen these tests are well past the College Algebra taught at a CC, and I doubt I could have passed them when I was 18. The student will invariably have to take the course again at the university ; if this sounds unfair, well, the university wants that tuition dollar every bit as much as the CC. Additionally, faculty at the university are entitled not to have students from bogus courses  making things difficult in their classes.

So, if it’s just one course, it makes more sense to get the university’s permission first, then take it at the CC. Take the course without permission, and it probably won’t transfer.

“2 year degree + 2 more years = 6 years for a 4 year degree”

---most students think if they get a 2 year degree from a community college, it’ll only take 2 more years at a university to get a 4 year degree. Sadly, university administrators use a different sort of mathematics for that, as the 2 year degree is generally useless.

If it’s a bunch of courses, well, most all institutions have a hard cap on how many hours can transfer (12 hours, four courses, is the most common, and accreditation even mandates that most of the coursework has to be done on the campus awarding the degree). So, a student that takes many courses at the CC, but has no 2-year degree, will likely lose most, if not all, of it when he goes to the institution.


“I find it frustrating that our students can get 2 year degrees, but it still takes them 4 more years to get a 4 year degree when they transfer to [nearby university].”

--CC administrator, trying to change things, 8 years ago. Nothing’s changed. I should note here that no CC warns the students about the very limited transferability of most coursework. I again remind that accredited institutions promise to “act with integrity.”


But what of the student that specifically gets some sort of associate’s degree? Surely he can transfer that to the university? Not really. Again, what matters is the coursework, so it’ll only transfer if the coursework in the associate’s degree directly applies to the degree the student is trying for at the university. Typically, much of it doesn’t, so the hours might transfer, but ultimately, the student will still need to take at least 3 years (and, more likely, more, since the coursework at the CC didn’t prepare the student for university coursework) to get that 4 year degree.

So, once again, the only way for a student to come out ahead by going to CC is to first go to the university and find out what they’ll let him get away with taking at the CC.

Most students don’t know any better, and certainly won’t be warned by any CC administrator or advisor (there was a time when faculty advised students, but that’s not so common anymore, “for some reason”). The student will merrily take his “cheap” courses for a few years, thinking he’s getting a good deal. Only after priceless years of his youth and tens of thousands of dollars of loan money and lost wages are squandered will the student find out how he’s been tricked into wasting his time and money on bogus pseudo-courses that won’t apply to any real degree, or to any job.

Don’t get me wrong, if you want to learn about cupcake decorating or karate or how to speak in public and don’t mind paying a fortune, then community college is a decent enough way to go…but anyone serious about education should be extremely wary of community college.

So, for the students, at least those looking for an education, community college does not represent any savings, only a great opportunity to waste time and money.

Hmm, “money” and “opportunity”…those words have great appeal, especially if “integrity” isn’t part of the picture. It turns out community college is a great opportunity for a certain group of folks to make money, exploiting the opportunity. Long time readers of my humble blog can probably guess, but newcomers are encouraged to read older posts.

Or, think about it. As a hint, realize that community colleges mostly just take students away from the university, which has to let go of faculty…which get hired at the CC. Who else does the CC need to employ, and won’t be taken from the pool of faculty let go at the university?