Have You Considered a Community College?
If you haven’t, you might want to think again. More higher-achieving students are opting for two-year community colleges as a less expensive way to start their four-year degrees.
In an earlier blog, I focused on Connecticut’s Dual Admission program, which lets students complete two years at a community college and then automatically transfer to either a state school or UConn. In this post, I’ll focus on the specifics of attending a community college, including admission, quality of education, and financial aid.
For answers, I spoke to Earl Graham, Assistant Director of Admission at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport. Let’s learn about Housatonic:
Located in Bridgeport, Housatonic Community College is one of 12 community colleges in Connecticut. The school offers Associate Degree programs in preparation for transfer to four-year schools, as well as occupationally-oriented Associate Degree and Certificate programs.
Tuition: Approximately $3,500 (in-state)
Student enrollment: 6200
Students receiving financial aid: 90-95%
Q: Earl, tell us about Housatonic Community College.
A: We’re an open admission, higher education institution. We admit all students regardless of race, creed or color. We have opportunities not only for students to get college level credits, but we also have a wide variety of non-credit programs through our Continuing Education and Business & Industry department.
Q: What is an open admission policy?
A: An open admission policy simply means that graduation from a secondary program is all that’s needed for admission. We don’t look at GPA or SAT or ACT scores. Almost all community colleges in the country work this way.
Q: What kind of students choose community college?
A: In the past it was the traditional age student who didn’t achieve the highest grades, as well as older students who wanted to wrap up a degree or get into continuing ed. programs. But now we’re finding more and more 18 year olds who’ve done really well in high school who are looking at us.
Q: Why do you think you’re attracting higher-achieving students?
A: Four main reasons. 1. Our tuition. For 2011-2012 it’s about $3,500 for the year. 2. We have good relationships with the state schools and UConn. 3. Our credits transfer to just about anywhere in the country, like Sacred Heart, Fairfield University, Connecticut College, and Sarah Lawrence. 4. We have really good relationships with Fairfield, Stratford, and Bridgeport high schools, and those counselors are recommending us.
Transferring to Four-Year Schools
Q: Explain the transfer agreements you have for students to transfer to four-year state schools.
A: Connecticut’s community colleges recently signed an agreement with the state’s four-year programs (Central, Southern, Eastern and Western Connecticut State University) called the Dual Admission Program. What it means is that students come to a community college, and within the first fifteen credits complete an application to their desired four-year program. So let’s say they want to go to Central Connecticut State. They come here and within the first fifteen credits they complete an application. Then their counselor, our counselor, and the student work together to ensure that the classes they’re taking will all transfer. All that’s needed is a 2.0 GPA, and they’re automatically admitted as juniors after they’ve graduated from us.
Q: Do you have the same transfer agreement with UConn?
A: Yes. The criterion is a 3.0 GPA.
Q: Does Housatonic have agreements for students to transfer to other schools?
A: Yes. We have an agreement with the University of New Haven, where there’s also a reduction in the cost of attending. There are also transfer agreements for graduates in certain programs, such as education (NYU and Wheaton), and engineering (Fairfield University). Many schools come to our campus and recruit. (Note: Each community college has different transfer agreements with private colleges, so check their websites.)
Q: That says a lot about the level of education at Housatonic.
A: I talk all the time about one of our famous grads who came out of Central High School, graduating 297 or so out of 300, at the very bottom. He went on to Fairfield University, Temple Law, and is now a superior court judge in the City of Bridgeport.
These schools wouldn’t be coming back every year if the students who matriculated weren’t performing. Students are leaving here well-educated and well-situated to excel at the schools that they go to for their bachelor degrees.
Support Services for Students
Q: What kind of support do you offer students?
A: We have excellent support services. We’ve always been there for the students who need us the most; students who struggle, who may need some more guidance and assistance.
We have a very small student-teacher ratio and small classes. Most classrooms are capped at 22 or 25 students. As you get into the 200 level courses, they’re down to about 10 or fewer students, so there’s a one-on-one relationship that takes place automatically.
We have a tutoring center that’s available to all of our students completely free of charge. It’s staffed by upper level students and staff as well as by faculty, adjuncts, and full professors. There are full-time staff who will assist in writing and mathematics. We have something called “mega math” which is all-day math tutoring on Fridays. We have another program called “e Tutoring,” which is the assistance of tutors online, pretty much 24-7. You submit work and get feedback almost immediately, or at least within a day.
An important part of our success is correct placement. Unless they’ve scored 500 on the math and 450 on the verbal, all students must take a placement test. That test determines what classes they start with. They may start off in some pre-college courses, which gives them the footing to be successful. In some of those pre-college courses the tutoring center is required. They must attend a couple of hours a week and learn how to use the center.
Q: What kind of financial aid is available?
A: What’s great about attending a community college is, let’s say you get $5,500 from a Pell grant. Our tuition is about $3,500, so it leaves the student about $2,000. They can use that $2,000 for books and other things, and any money that’s left over is given to the student. So a student can come to a community college and have tuition paid for, books paid for, and may even have a couple of bucks left in their pocket at the end of the day.
Q: Does a Pell grant always take care of tuition?
A: If it doesn’t, we have a scholarship office for students who may need other funds to further their education.
Q: Has the recession affected admissions?
A: Yes. In the past it’s been the students who didn’t achieve the highest marks in high school who’ve come to a community college, but it’s shifting because of the financial situation in the state. We’re attracting more and more traditional age students (18-19 year olds).
Q: What part of the community college experience most is misunderstood?
A: We can do everything in the first two years that any school can do. We are a real college with real professors and real classes. We’ll get you going, we’ll move you on to the next level. We don’t compete with any four-year school. We want you to graduate from any one of those schools; we just want you to start with us. The reciprocal agreement, the level of education, our campus – we’re right off the highway, the bus runs right in front of our campus, we’re right next to the train station. We’ve got to say to folks we’re just as valid as the first two years in any four-year program.
To contact Housatonic Community College:
900 Lafayette Blvd.
Bridgeport, CT 06604
Connecticut’s community colleges:
Asnuntuck (Enfield) www.acc.commnet.edu
Capital (Hartford) www.ccc.commnet.edu
Gateway (North Haven) www.gwcc.commnet.edu
Housatonic (Bridgeport) www.hcc.commnet.edu
Manchester (Manchester) www.mcc.commnet.edu
Middlesex (Middletown) www.mxcc.commnet.edu
Naugatuck Valley (Waterbury) www.nvcc.commnet.edu
Northwestern Connecticut (Winstead) www.nwcc.commnet.edu
Norwalk (Norwalk) www.nwcc.commnet.edu
Quinebaug (Willimantic) www.qvcc.commnet.edu
Three Rivers (Norwich) www.trcc.commnet.edu
Tunxis (Farmington) www.tunxis.commnet.edu
..Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting
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