Ten Most Commonly Asked Questions About Community Colleges 

By Gary Honnert, Director of Public Information, Sinclair Community College 

College bound students and their parents are usually loaded with questions. That’s good. When the subject of attending community colleges comes up, these are some of the most commonly asked questions.

1.    What is the primary difference between a community college and a four-year college or university? 

There are quite a few differences in fact. In general, community colleges are two-year schools that offer a wide diversity of course and associate degree offerings for career programs or for transfer to four-year schools. Courses in the arts, sciences, and technical career areas are offered. Community colleges award certificates and associate degrees to their graduates. Certificate programs generally consist of a course of studies that can be completed in one year. It provides training in a particular career area by developing essential skills in the career area, but not at the same level of completeness as the associate degree. Most community colleges are commuter schools which students attend in or near their hometown, while maintaining their jobs and/or family life. 

Students who attend four-year colleges and universities generally commute or live on or near campus. Some four-year colleges offer associate degrees but most offer bachelor’s degrees, also known as baccalaureate degrees. Universities generally offer baccalaureate programs as well as master’s and doctoral degree programs. Ordinarily, classes taken at public four-year institutions cost two or three times more than those at community colleges. Classes taken at private four-year colleges can cost up to 10 times more!

2.    Don’t most students attend four-year colleges and universities? 

Actually, more than 50% of college freshman and sophomores nationally attend community colleges. Since most community colleges do not offer junior, senior or graduate level courses, the remaining students attend four-year colleges and universities. Ohio’s 23 community and technical colleges enroll over 171,000 Ohioans in their credit programs.

3.    Aren’t community colleges just glorified vocational schools? 

There was a time when the majority of two-year colleges offered a narrow choice of technical, or career related programs. That is no longer the case. Today’s community colleges offer a wide choice of degree programs from art and engineering to physics and zoology. Most public two-year colleges have dropped the "junior college" monikers from their names.

4.    What kinds of students attend community colleges? 

Community colleges tend to attract a wider age range of students than traditional four-year colleges and universities. The average student age at community colleges is 29 years. On average, 58% of all students are women and 62% attend part-time. And although out-of-state and foreign students do attend community colleges, most are from surrounding counties.

5.    Are community college instructors as good as those at four-year colleges and universities? 

Except in some technical career areas, most teaching positions at community colleges require a master’s degree or higher. More importantly, community colleges place a heavy emphasis on faculty having “real world” experience. In other words, you won’t be taught by an absentee professor’s teaching assistant. Also, the average class size at community colleges is much smaller than those at their four-year public counterparts.

6.    Why are community colleges less expensive to attend than four-year colleges and universities? 

Many community colleges have a local tax which supports the college, in addition to student fees and state support. Also, community colleges generally don’t have the “high overhead” of major colleges and universities that must maintain such things as hospitals, football stadiums and high profile athletic teams.

7.    I was involved in a variety of extracurricular activities in high school. Do community colleges have clubs and organizations to which I can belong? 

Absolutely! At some community colleges, for example, there are as many as 50 honor societies, leadership development, curriculum, special interest, athletic, and religious clubs and organizations. Most community colleges also have intercollegiate athletic teams and clubs too.

8.    If I graduate from a community college, can I transfer the credits to a four-year college or university? 

The modern community college is increasingly becoming the school of “first choice” for students pursuing technical, career related degrees as well as for those who plan to transfer their community colleges credits to a four-year institution. In Ohio, most community college coursework transfers to public and independent four-year colleges and universities.

9.    Do employers recruit at community colleges? 

You bet! Ohio community colleges offer training in virtually all of the hottest career fields of the next decade. More than 60% of the projected increase in net employment over the next decade will be filled by individuals with at least some college as their highest level of educational attainment, but often having less than a baccalaureate degree.

10.   Are good jobs available to community college graduates? 

Employment for associate degree graduates is expected to grow by 21.7% over the next 10 years. This is significantly higher than the 9.7% average for all occupations during this period. Community college graduates earn $400,000 more, on average, in a lifetime than people with high school diplomas.