Community colleges have always been a place where students could go to further their education and or career, without the high-tuition fees and strict entrance requirements of four-year universities and colleges.
Unfortunately, many community colleges are experiencing a crisis that doesn’t look like it’s going to get resolved any time soon.
While most community colleges are still open to students, funding has been cut and new students as well as returning students are feeling the brunt.
Many students don’t know what to do or how to further their education in the wake of this crisis.
Community College Student Body
About four-million people attended community colleges all over the United States in 2011. The median age of community college students is 23 years old; however, some students are considerably older, and about 40-percent of community college students are between the ages of 23 and 39.
15-percent of community college students are over 40.
Many of the people older than the typical four-year college student studying at community colleges are adults looking to finish their degree or get training that they need to further their career.
For these older students, attending expensive four-year colleges that often don’t offer night classes or have very specific course load requirements simply isn’t an option.
That’s why community college attendance has risen every year since 2007, when the entire nation was starting the feel the very real effects of the recession and everyone was rushing to make themselves an asset.
Decreased Community College Funding
In 2011, President Barack Obama proposed funding community colleges with an estimated $12 billion.
Unfortunately, that funding was cut to just $2 billion – a relatively small amount that’s leaving many community colleges wondering how they’re going to keep their doors open for new and returning students.
Decreased funding means that the amount of classes a college can offer must be cut.
Because of fewer classes being offered in a single semester, many students are unable to get the classes that they need.
New students and seniors often get the worst of it. New students need prerequisite classes to even begin to take degree applicable or transferrable classes.
These classes are often the first to fill up, leaving students unable to take classes they need. The crisis has exploded in California, where over 470,000 community college students have been waitlisted.
Eric, currently a Junior at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, CA, commented, “I remember preparing my class schedule, with backups, so that I’d be ready on my registration date. Two days later half the classes were gone. I was one of the early ones to register and I needed those classes because I work full time at Target to help my mom out. The classes weren’t even listed as full, so I called the school because I thought something was wrong with the site. All I was told was the classes were removed because there was no budget for them. That semester I was only able to take one class. I mean, I don’t want to be at Target forever.”
Many new students are forced to take electives or only take one prerequisite course per semester when they would normally take three or four.
Seniors that are looking to graduate are also having problems because of decreased funding. For many seniors, only one or two classes are needed to graduate.
Michael, a senior at College of the Canyons, says, “It’s practically impossible to get the classes I need because the freshmen come in and take everything. Whatever happened to seniors having priority? We are the ones closest to graduating. Doesn’t it make sense to the schools to let us have our classes and get us out of here to make room for more students?”
Many seniors simply can’t get the class or classes they need, even after waiting for several semesters, and it’s preventing them from graduating for whole semesters and even years, especially if they have to schedule their classes around work and family.
The system is very obviously failing its students.
Denise, a freshman at College of the Canyons, had this to say about the budget cuts: “How do they expect any of us to receive an education that is going to take us anywhere? Everyone got hit hard by the recession and it’s time that the government figured this stuff out because it’s not my fault, or my classmates, or my professors’ faults. It’s the government’s fault for being so divided. That’s not even true. It’s the Republicans’ fault, and I am a Republican and I’m embarrassed. Your youth needs money to learn America! Let me learn!”
What’s the Government Doing to Fix It?
Most funding for community colleges comes from state and federal government.
When times are good, community colleges thrive. When they’re bad, community college programs are often the first to get cut.
While some states are working to fix their community college’s problems through higher fees, state and federal government officials aren’t doing much to fix what’s starting to become a broken system.
Large states with huge numbers of community college students like California expect funding to be cut further in upcoming years unless there are some serious budget revisions.
What Alternatives Do Students Have?
For many students, community colleges simply aren’t getting the job done anymore.
Freshmen can’t get the classes they need to move on, and seniors are simply unable to graduate.
While some students choose to stick it out and wait on the classes they need, even if takes them twice the amount of time it should to graduate, others are looking for alternatives.
Online universities offer new and returning community college students the same classes that brick and mortar community colleges do, but they don’t have the same waitlist to get in. There are public online universities like Western Governors University and University of Maryland - University College (the largest public university in the U.S.), and for-profit online universities like University of Phoenix (the largest private university in the U.S.).
Through online universities, many community college students are finding the classes they need to get further into their field of study or finally get all of the credits they need to graduate.
Online universities offer the same learning experience as community colleges, and some students claim that they even get more attention from professors since the class sizes are often much smaller.
Many community college students that switch to online learning also find that they can easily find online college courses that work with their busy work and family life better than they could before.
Alex, a community college student who recently switched to an online university had this to say about his decision, “There aren’t a lot of available classes for animation majors on campus. At universities of course there are but I don’t have the time to be on campus and work around their limited schedule, I have to work. Switching to an online university is awesome because I have all the time I need to teach my Taekwondo students, work, and get a great education that’s really going to take me places. It’s got to be the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Should You Switch?
Ultimately the decision whether or not to switch is going to factor in how fed up with the lack of class availability you are, your personal scheduling needs, and how well you learn in an online setting.
Each of these is important to consider.
With funding for community colleges not really there, and the ability to graduate getting harder and harder, online courses at universities are a viable option that will help you to graduate on time and start earning a living while everyone else gets stuck waiting.
Marcela De Vivo is a freelance writer in the Los Angeles area. She started her own company Gryffin Media which specializes in search engine optimization.
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