Working Community Colleges into the Conversation
Joseph Fantozzi Jr. has been a member of the admission counseling team at the City University of New York (CUNY) since 2009. Recently, he has taken on a management role as recruitment coordinator. In this role, he coordinates outreach activities for high school and transfer students throughout the New York Metropolitan area while fostering relationships between college counselors/transfer advisors and the University. Additionally, he oversees all virtual recruitment efforts and social media activities. Joseph has also been an adjunct faculty member at the City College of New York since 2008. He is an active member of National Associate for College Admission Counseling, the New York State Association for College Admission Counseling and the College Board. He received his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in music from The Boston Conservatory.
With the rising costs of higher education and the uncertainty of many job markets, more and more attention is being shifted to the value of the community college education. While I feel like there has been some change in the perception of a community college education, I think we have only scratched the surface in presenting this path as a great option. Too often it is presented as a “worst case scenario”. For many students, the community college option is in fact the best one, even if other choices are available. Below are just a few topics to consider when explaining the community college path, using our own NYC community colleges as example
Variety of academic opportunities
Not every community college student is exactly the same, so their academic experience shouldn’t be either. Most people think of community colleges as being a support system for those in need academically and/or financially. There are some fantastic nationally recognized programs such as ASAP that have done incredible work with these populations. However, community college is not just about support services.
Honors programs and coursework are common offerings amongst many community colleges and are not given the exposure they deserve. For instance, Bronx and Hostos Community Colleges both offer a STEM scholars program that includes lab work, research and hands-on advising.
Recently, we had a student contact our office to share his story, one that has become increasingly common. This student started at Queensborough Community College, having never heard of it before. A strong academic performance guided by various research opportunities in Chemistry paved the way for him to continue on to Queens College. A bachelors’ degree, many presentations of award winning research at national conferences and a few years later, this student has started a fully-funded PhD program in Chemistry at Princeton University.
The needs of students at a community college are the same as those at a four year institution. It is often wrongfully assumed that community colleges do not have the resources to meet these needs. Having state of the art facilities are a necessary part of the student experience and contribute to student success on all degree levels, especially with more hands-on programs. Queensborough Community College boasts the largest astronomy observatory of any college in Queens and is home to a high tech Cassegrain telescope.
Another common misconception is that the people in front of these classrooms teaching students are of lesser quality than their colleagues at the four year level. At CUNY, the qualifications to become a professor at a community college are the same as at a four year college. These professors are committed to teaching and often hold the highest degrees available in their fields. Did you know that the 2014 New York State professor of the year came from Hostos Community College?
One of the biggest complaints we hear about a community college education, is that it isn’t “real college”. Since these are obviously degree granting institutions, we can only interpret that as a concern for lack of student life. Community colleges offer many student life opportunities that are typically associated with the four year experience.
- Sports are a great way to get involved and increase school spirit, even as a spectator. CUNY’s community colleges participate locally in the CUNY Athletic Conference, as well as regionally and nationally through the NJCAA.
- Clubs and student organizations are rampant on the campuses: robotics club, student government, and the ping pong club to name a few. The diversity of activities matches that of the student body.
- Study Abroad is not only for four year colleges. Many students can participate in programs offered at the two year level. The Salzburg Global Seminar, a free seven day intensive exploring global issues held at a castle in Austria, is offered at a few CUNY community colleges. CUNY’s study abroad programs are open to all CUNY students, regardless of their affiliation with a two year or four year campus.
- Students have opportunities to interact with outside organizations and events on campus, such as attending the Center for Sustainability’s annual conference held at Bronx Community College, or LaGuardia Community College’s “industry insider” panels to help members of the community explore careers in assorted fields.
Life after the associate’s degree
Recently, a lot of work has been done to improve the transition process from a community college to a four year college. In general, statistics have shown that if a student starts at a community college, it is best to complete the degree in order to seamlessly make the transition to a four year college.
- Articulation Agreements abound and provide much needed direction in course selection and provide a clear path to a Bachelor’s degree. These programs can be researched at the two or four year level and often provide access to competitive programs. For instance, Hostos Community College offers a bridge program to the Engineering department at City College.
- Some career fields that historically required an associate’s degree to enter the workforce, such as nursing, have seen a shift to students continuing on to a bachelor’s degree to be more competitive in a tough job market. However, there are still many programs that can lead directly to a fulfilling job after completing a degree such as massage therapy, automotive technology or dental hygiene.
- Successful completion of an associate’s degree often offers flexibility for many reasons. Students who did not reach their full potential in high school can improve their academic performance at a community college, potentially giving them transfer opportunities that did not exist when they were applying to colleges as freshmen.
There is no denying the cost-savings of attending a community college. They offer the lowest tuition rates in the country, and allow students to save for other educational pursuits. Money saved on tuition can be used down the road for additional under graduate or graduate level work. Minimizing a student’s overall loan burden can greatly improve quality of life and offer flexibility to pursue additional opportunities.
Drawing your own Conclusions
There is no ignoring the abysmal graduation and retention rates across the county’s community colleges. However, that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be part of a college search. College is what you make of it, whether you attend a two year or four year school. Encourage your students not to take other people’s word for what the community college experience is. They need to see for themselves – do online research, make campus visits and form their own opinion – the same as with any other college search.
How do you identify students that might be a good fit for a community college? What are your methods of exposing them to this as a possible path?
*SPECIAL COLLABORATIVE MENTION:
Thank you to Ms. Ann Taylor Shaw's collaboration with Joe Fantozzi with this great post. Her contributions are appreciated by NYC College Line and the community of college advisement professionals.
Ann Taylor Shaw has been part of the admission counseling team at the City University of New York (CUNY) since 2011. She is an experienced recruiter both within and outside of New York State and recently led CUNY’s expanded recruitment efforts in parts of Pennsylvania. She is an active member of the New York Association of College Admissions Counseling and has presented at conferences through that organization as well as the College Board. Ann Taylor received her Bachelor’s degree in Communication from the University of Alabama and her Master’s degree in public administration from Baruch College.