Bunker Mulligan "Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry." ~Mark Twain

September 28, 2004

Community College

Filed under: Education — Bunker @ 7:55 am

I haven’t written about education in a while, but Lago had a segment on our local community college this morning and made me think about people’s perceptions.

I have an associates degree, bachelors degree, and masters degree. The toughest one for me was the first. But it led to the others. It was tough because I was working, and I had to get back into the school mentality. I had to catch up on the math I had forgotten. I had to write much more than I had before.

But the teachers I had getting my schooling in a community college were the best. Almost all had real-world experience, and many taught part-time while working in their field. The students at community colleges across the country average about 27 years of age. The classroom discussions and student goals reflect that maturity.

The real question about where to attend school comes back to expectations.

Most jobs in this world do not require a bachelors degree. They require an education. There is a difference. If you look at any 4-year college in this country, the majority of students are in the College of Arts and Sciences. A large portion of those are in several “soft” degree programs, that is programs which have no direct tie to any particular career path. A sociology, pyschology, even biology degree is but a step toward a higher degree. There are few jobs around where people hire someone with only a bachelors in those areas. English Literature and Women’s Studies offer almost nothing in the way of employment.

That’s okay. An education is of value regardless of the type degree someone gets, if what you want is simply an education in something that interests you.

But a large number of freshmen don’t get past the first year, even in these programs. I don’t have any numbers handy at the moment, but when I was working in education the number who survived was around 25%. They have heard all their lives that a college degree is essential, but they really have given no thought to why, or what they want to do with it.

I’ve found that community colleges offer a much better route for education than 4-year schools for most folks. There are programs in all forms of technical work, nursing, and even journalism. For most jobs in this country, the education a student gets with the diploma is enough to take them to the highest levels within that career path. And most also provide the kind of education they need to start and run their own business. It is cheaper, and a good way to immerse yourself in the academic environment. And it is a good way to sample a variety of options.

Let me offer a little unsolicited advice to current high school students and their parents. Unless you know precisely what you want to major in, and what your future employment prospects are with that degree, consider a local school for the first two years. If you want to get into computer programming or systems development, you will get as much hands-on experience and instruction from someone actually using those tools at a community college as you will in a complete 4-year program at a university. Of course, you will need more education later in some specific areas, but you will go into that better equipped.

I took care of all my basics as a part-time student–English, math, physics–then went on and got my engineering degree. And I was able to focus on my core engineering courses. But I had excellent teachers for calculus and physics at a community college, better than I had later on in more advanced courses. My instructor for the first of my calculus-based physics course taught part-time. In real life he worked an the Air Force’s airborne laser system.

Don’t think the quality of instruction suffers.


  1. I totally agree about the value of the education that is available at community colleges. That being said, it is also possible for unmotivated and unprepared students to waste time at ANY institution. It really depends on the student – will they fill in the gaps in their preparation, will they buckle down and learn what they need to know without making excuses, will they follow a planned course of study, or just meander through a few years of playing around on someone else’s money? What you get at the CC’s depends on what you put into it.

    Comment by Linda — October 4, 2004 @ 1:58 pm

  2. I agree. But a CC offers a little more incentive. Going off to a 4-year school puts a lot of social pressure on a youngster. Too much for many to deal with.

    Comment by Bunker — October 4, 2004 @ 5:03 pm

  3. Props to Community Colleges
    Bunker Mulligan This post builds a bit on my earlier one, about assimilating. My wife is a Community College English Professor. She teaches Developmental Composition, and she is very talented and dedicated. I’ve been party to many of her successes…

    Trackback by The Commons at Paulie World — September 28, 2004 @ 9:51 am

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