Community colleges and online courses address two of the most pressing issues facing students today - college accessibility and earning an affordable college degree. Which is a better option for you?
On one hand, community colleges have always played an important role in higher education because they are often perceived as the most accessible point of entry into a college system. In a job environment where college degree holders earn significantly more per week than high school grads, and have much lower unemployment rates, the demand for an accessible education has never been higher.
On the other hand, the resources available to meet the needs of working adults in the community college system have fallen short. Low-cost online courses can get you on a direct pathway to your college degree, and help you get the general education courses you need without all the hassles and high costs normally associated with going back to school.
Can you get the courses you need at a community college?
Sometimes. More and more community college students are getting shut out of classes and access to the educational programs they need. There’s a huge cost to all of this waiting – every missed hour, missed class, or missed semester is a missed opportunity. According to research from Complete College America:
- 20% of community college students say they were unable to get into a class needed for their degree.
- 33% of community college students say they had not gotten into a class they wanted to take.
- Only 5% of two-year associate degree seekers graduate on time.
According to the same data, "evaluations of two-year community colleges are now based on three-year graduation rates." For students trying to control the cost of college, that "extra" year mean means paying an "extra" year's worth of tuition for school. Since an affordable college degree is directly related to being able to graduate on time, students must have access to required courses when needed.
Are online courses a better option than community college?
If you are trying to decide if taking an online course is a better option than taking the same course at your community college, consider the following:
1. Course availability
As we noted above, it can be difficult to enroll in the courses you need at a community college. Popular degree programs, like those is nursing and healthcare, can get full fast and courses are often unavailable when you need them. In contrast, all courses at StraighterLine are available 24/7. You can simply enroll and start earning college credit today. Online courses win.
In a traditional classroom course you are going to have to complete lessons and papers on deadline and show up for class and exams at appointed times. Online classes at traditional schools often follow the similar schedules as those offered in classrooms which can cause conflicts and slow the progress on your degree. With StraighterLine online courses, you can complete general education courses at your own pace and on your own time. If something comes up at work, you can take an extra week to prepare for a paper or exam - or pick up your pace when you need to get a course complete by a deadline. For flexibility, online courses win.
The cost of college is the #1 issue facing most college students today. So it makes sense that there's a lot of buzz just around the suggestion of a free community college education. Currently, the average cost of a community college is $3,264 (2013-2014). If you enroll in StraighterLine's $1,299 Full Year of college plan, you can take up to ten 3- and 4-credit general education courses. Those 30 credits end up only costing you about $43 per credit! Compared with your local community college tuition, you save more than half - and you can complete the courses according to your schedule, allowing you to avoid conflicts with your job or family life.
4. Ease of transferring credits
You can transfer the credits you earn at community colleges and StraighterLine to other colleges. ACE CREDIT has evaluated and recommended StraighterLine courses for credit and more than 2,000 colleges and universities consider ACE CREDIT recommendations in determining the applicability to their schools course and degree programs. Online courses can make a big difference in your degree success.
5. Ease of transferring to other colleges
This question is a bit more complex. In many states, it is pretty straightforward to transfer to a four-year state college or university after completing coursework at a community college in that state. StraighterLine also makes it super simple to transfer into a bachelor's degree programs at nearly 100 accredited colleges selected for their high-quality degree programs. A bonus with StraighterLine – you have your choice of schools in, or out of your state, or 100% online. It's pretty much a tie, depending on where you want to earn your degree.
6. Time to earn your degree
For students pursuing a 2-year associate degree, the stats are pretty grim. Only 5% of full time students earn their degree in 2 years. However, students successfully completing online courses have been shown to have significantly higher on time graduation rates. For example, fewer than 10% of students coming to WGU from StraighterLine have dropped out before earning their degree. Quality online courses have been proven to increase your success, count for credit towards your degree, and save you money.
So what is your best choice, online courses or a community college? It depends on your needs and educational plans, so investigate your options and be sure to make the choice that is right for you.