3. Tailored Academics: Many community colleges, such as Miami Dade College in Florida, have honors colleges for academically talented students. Miami Dade's program has small, interactive classes, internships, study-travel opportunities, and individualized transfer advising. Other schools offer special learning opportunities outside of class that are open to all students. Tito Campbell, a student at Norwalk Community College in Norwalk, Ct., says services on campus such as tutoring and the writing center, in which the assistance is given from students' own peers, are very helpful. "It's great to get that kind of support from people who are your own age," he adds.
Kay McClenney, director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas-Austin, says that having an academic plan with milestones for where a student wants to be three, five, or eight years down the road is key, especially because only 1 in 5 community college students graduates within three years. Learning how to balance the academics with the other obligations that most community college students have is critical, and she recommends taking a college student success course early on that integrates students into college life and focuses on finding an academic pathway. Those types of courses are expanding because of the emerging evidence indicating that students who take such a class are more likely to persist in college and graduate than students who do not.
4. Job Prospects: Transferring out of community college is not for everyone, though, and experts agree that some of the highest-demand occupations in the country are open to individuals with just an associate's degree. Community college students can get an RN degree that allows them to sit for the national nursing certification exam. Other fields pursued by graduates include veterinary technology, computer programming, law enforcement, and a variety of technology-related positions in the allied health professions.
"For every Ph.D.-level person in the biomedical careers there are about 18 associate-degree-level technologists that support that work," says McClenney.
Given the low cost and the academic opportunities available, many students today might consider it financially sound to live at home and opt for community college, but Cochrane says that's not always the case. "Costs might be higher at a four-year institution, but there's more financial aid available to cover those costs," she says. Above all else, "students should attend the school that's the best fit for them."
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