Community colleges can provide valuable education to students seeking it.

Despite perceived negative perceptions surrounding two-year programs, attending a community college prior to a university holds a number of tangible benefits.

The landscape of higher education has shifted drastically over the last several years, and with the cost of higher education rising and the amount of jobs diminishing, many throughout Oklahoma have begun to take a look at the best collegiate solution.

“I always preach overall best value,” says Terrie Shipley, an Oklahoma college consultant.

Both public and private universities across the country have steadily increased their costs over the years, making it more difficult than ever to finance a degree. This financial strain is certainly felt by students in Oklahoma. According to the Oklahoma State Regents For Higher Education’s 2012-2013 tuition impact analysis, Oklahoma public colleges’ tuition has increased an average of 4.1 percent in the last five years.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and a lot of people don’t know how much they’re going to have to save to send their kids to a really good school,” says Shipley.

Despite these high costs, Oklahoma’s typical community college is still less than the national average. According to the tuition impact report, the average cost of community college in Oklahoma is $3,106 annually, as compared to $5,029 nationally.

One of the primary reasons individuals enroll in community colleges is academic ineligibility.
“Community college is usually the option for many of my clients if the student isn’t academically, emotionally or socially ready for a four-year college,” says Shipley.

The 2012 Annual Student Remediation Report revealed that 45 percent of freshman in Oklahoma were enrolled in developmental educational courses, and 73 percent of those students attended community colleges.

Community colleges do provide some advantages over four-year institutions. One advantage is class size. The courses at Oklahoma’s community colleges are in many respects just as challenging as those at other four-year state institutions, but the smaller student-to-teacher ratio at community colleges can help shorten the learning curve.

“People have a really good opportunity in a community college environment to have direct contact with instructors and professionals in the field they’re pursuing,” says Lauren Brookey, vice president of external affairs at Tulsa Community College.

Another pivotal advantage is the direct training for the workforce that students receive at community colleges. While most universities promote academia, community colleges provide practical knowledge and real-world experience that can be extremely helpful in a struggling job market.

“Community colleges really provide a jumpstart to both a bachelor’s degree and/or a skill or certificate for the workplace,” says Brookey.

Two-year programs also offer a level of flexibility that most universities cannot offer. Unlike traditional four-year universities, community colleges almost always have multiple campuses throughout a city or county, and the growth of the Internet over the last two decades has allowed for many community colleges to offer many courses online.

Brookey believes that Community colleges are able to respond more quickly to trends and changes in how students like to attend college. At Tulsa Community College alone, 80 percent of the students utilize both on-campus and online classes.

Attending community college may not be an automatic choice for many students, but with college graduates currently entering the workforce with high student loan debt and lower paying jobs, a more affordable college education is much more attractive.

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