I overheard a colleague of mine the other day bemoaning the fact that "no parent brags that their kid got into a community college." He was rightly complaining. The college where we work, Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, NY, is part of the CUNY system, and attracts highly qualified faculty in all fields from chemical engineering to culinary arts to community health. We pride ourselves on small classes, innovative support services, and a lively campus environment. Nonetheless, we know that for many students, they do not choose KCC for these qualities, and may instead attend because we are convenient, inexpensive, and accessible.
Imagine instead that students, and their parents, approached community colleges as an intentional choice, and took the time to investigate the community college's offerings. What are five questions they should ask while touring the campus?
- Do you have articulation agreements with four-year colleges? Having articulation agreements in place means that your associate degree, and the credits you have earned along the way, will be accepted at a four-year college. Often this articulation agreement is for specific programs of study. If you are aiming for a bachelor degree, an articulation agreement means you can earn your associate degree and transfer to a four-year as a junior. You won't waste any time re-doing courses you have already taken, and your transition will be seamless.
- How does the college foster a sense of community? Community colleges are almost all commuter schools. Students drive, or take public transportation, to class, and then leave to go home, or to work. Faculty often do the same; they arrive on campus to teach, but leave when class is over rather than hanging out. But, students (and faculty!) benefit from having a college with diverse and interesting extra-curricular activities. Does the community have student clubs that hold events? Does the college provide access to athletic facilities, or to a lounge? How active is student government? Are there events outside of class where faculty and students can meet up?
- Are there on-campus job opportunities such as work-study? While financial aid often covers the full cost of attending community college, an on-campus job can create opportunities to gain valuable work experience while studying, and is a convenient way of earning extra cash (hey, you're on campus already!). Jobs often provide opportunities to work with faculty in your field of study, or, may introduce you to the administrative side of the college. Because most community colleges are commuter schools (see above), a job on campus can help fill the hours between classes, and/or make the most of your commute to campus.
- What kind of job placement assistance will I receive at this college? Whether you are looking for a job to help pay the bills while you are studying, or seeking a job in your field of study after graduation, many colleges have excellent job placement assistance services. These services might include polishing your CV, developing your interview skills, and introductions to specific employers. In some places, local employers will recruit directly from the community college on a regular basis, insuring employment upon graduation. In other places, job development might not be much more than a list of job openings in your area, and a general "come one, come all" job fair.
- And the last question I would ask while touring the campus is, why did you choose this community college, and why did you stay? I would ask this question of students, faculty and staff. I would welcome this question from a prospective student, or their parents, and I dare say most of my colleagues, and my students, would welcome it as well.