The Uses of Community College

Many graduating high school seniors, despite high grades, have decided to forgo traditional college. In order to save money, they’re going to local community colleges. According to an article by George Basler in the Ithaca Journal:

Alex Dougherty considered Binghamton University his dream college all the way through his four years at Union-Endicott High School. He had been admitted and even put down a deposit to enroll. But when he enters school in the fall, he’ll be attending Broome Community College, majoring in engineering science, with plans to transfer to BU after two years.

“It’s 100 percent because of money,” said Dougherty, who received a Presidential Scholarship from BCC that will pay all of his tuition costs. “This way I won’t be in debt after two years.” Dougherty’s choice to attend a community college is one being made by a large number of high school seniors in this year’s class, area guidance counselors and school officials said.

This apparently rational choice highlights a deeper problem. It makes sense that in this economy students and their families decide not to attend private colleges. It even makes sense to attend community colleges, specifically if the colleges have guaranteed transfer programs with other schools and flexible schedules to allow students to hold jobs, but the fact that families now seem to think that even four-year public schools are beyond their reach is disturbing.

Dougherty’s dream college, after all, was SUNY Binghamton, which is a public university. It should never be too expensive. It exists specifically to be affordable to residents of New York State. The only reason a New York state student should be prevented from attending a school like Binghamton is because he didn’t get in.

There’s also something a little troublesome about thinking of community colleges as primarily places for middle-class students to use to transfer to four-year schools. That’s one of the functions of community colleges, to be sure, but it’s not the only one. Encouraging more students to attend these schools for transferring only puts additional strain on these schools.

As the article points out, more students at the three local community colleges, Broome Community College, Corning Community College, and Tompkins-Cortland Community College, don’t have enough space for the students. The increased enrollment also means more stress on instructors. Most importantly, however, too many students mean community colleges have to turn students away from popular, and very important, associate-degree programs like nursing.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer