The value of a community college education

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Santa Monica College. Photo by Parker Knight via Creative Commons/ Flickr

If you want a job, chances are good that you’ll need to get a college degree. A Georgetown University study found nearly two-thirds of US jobs will require some form of post high school education by 2018. It used to be that if you didn’t get top grades in high school, a community college diploma was your only real fallback plan. But two-year schools have become an entry way into four-year colleges. And, now universities are seeking out those kinds of students.

I’ve seen college reps more and more at  Santa Monica College, where I’ve been for three years. I’d see them  in cafeteria and in the quad, sitting behind tables covered with school banners and piles of brochures. And they were repping some really top-notch schools – I’d see the yellow and gold of UC Berkeley and the triple-crown symbol of Columbia.

Ninety percent of all community college students in the state who transfer end up at a UC or Cal State. UCLA has more than 7,000 transfer students right now — and they’re seeking them out. In 1960, California adopted the California Master Plan for High Education, which mandates that the states’s community college students be evaluated before all other transfer applicants. That’s one reason why the rates are so high.

Director of Admissions at UCLA, Gary Clark says there’s more to it than just a mandate. “Universities are looking for diversity and you can get that by where you went to school, where you live and I think that transfer students specifically give universities looking for diversity of perspective,” he says.

Two-year schools have a higher proportion of low-income and minority students, and many of them are the first in their families to attend college. The average community college student is 29 years old. And here’s another big difference. A lot of community college students – myself included – have to juggle school and work.

But the challenge of balancing work and school  may also be part of these students’ recipe for success. About 11 percent of community college students transfer to four-year schools, and when they do, their retention rate is as high as students who enter as freshmen. Transfer Specialist for UC Berkeley, Anna Rafferty, says that “transfer students are very successful at Cal, they have higher retention rates and GPA’s, so I am excited when I talk to transfer students about applying to Berkeley.”

Rafferty even offers Skype conversations for more one-on-one counseling. And the guidance doesn’t stop there. UC Berkeley offers a class called, “Transitioning to Cal” and the Transfer, Re-entry and Veterans Center offers other services for non-traditional students.

Community college students make up nearly half of all undergraduate students in the US. So it’s reassuring for people like me to see those universities come to my community college and reach out. I’ve been accepted to UC Davis and I start classes there this fall. I am that much closer to earning my degree. And having worked at a number of jobs already, I know how important that will be.