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Community Colleges: An Overview

Community colleges, sometimes referred to as city colleges, are a fundamental part of the American higher education program. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, there are 1,173 of these two-year institutions across the U.S. Nearly 12 million people attend community college and 40 percent of these individuals are full-time students. Students earned more than 605,000 Associate degrees at community colleges in 2009. Community college students now account for about 43 percent of all undergraduate students in the U.S.


The development of educational institutions paralleled the growth of cities in the U.S. As more people abandoned the agrarian life that dominated the country until the late nineteenth century, they moved to cities to find different types of employment. As civic leaders added libraries, museums and other accoutrements of culture to their towns, they also began to establish colleges.

Many people in the U.S. did not live near four-year universities. Even if such places were in close proximity, they were often cost-prohibitive for the majority of prospective students. A great number of two-year colleges were established in the 1880s and 1890s. Some were public, others private, and still others had religious affiliations. Although economic uncertainties in the 1890s and early twentieth century forced many of these small colleges to close, steps were taken to ensure that the remaining schools were better funded. Many of the early community colleges, or junior colleges, focused upon preparing people to become teachers. Community and city colleges enjoyed a rebirth in popularity after the end of World War II, when millions of veterans were able to receive educations under the G.I. Bill.


Community college represents a valuable opportunity for a variety of prospective students. The only admission requirement for most community colleges is a high school diploma or passing a General Educational Development (GED) exam. Many students attend a two-year college to qualify for admission to more competitive colleges. When remedial education is needed, community colleges offer courses that prepare students to apply to four-year institutions. After earning an Associate degree, students are able to transfer their course credits toward earning a Bachelor’s degree at a four-year college or university.

Community college is a great option for adults who are employed on a full or part-time basis. Indeed, 56 percent of all current students enrolled in community college are over the age of 22. The degree programs in these schools represent a way to invigorate a stalled career, or to acquire education toward an entirely new field of employment. Courses may be taken at night, allowing people to continue at their jobs while learning.

Four-year degrees at major universities are cost-prohibitive to many people. During recessionary economies, even the top educational institutions are limited in their ability to grant financial aid. On the other hand, community college tuition is almost always less expensive than that of a four-year college. Also, since 90 percent of the U.S. population lives within 25 miles of a community college, students can commute from home, saving thousands of dollars on room and board.

Degree Programs

Two-year Associate degrees are awarded in areas such as criminal justice, computers, nursing, occupational therapy, dental hygiene, environmental engineering and fashion design. Many of these careers offer substantial compensation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean salary for registered nurses across the U.S. was approximately $66,500 in May 2009. The mean salary for dental hygienists was $67,800. Occupational therapists enjoyed a mean compensation level of more than $47,000.

Many of these careers are poised for impressive growth over the next six years. The number of dental hygienists is expected to jump by 30 percent. As the general population ages, more health care providers will be needed. The number of registered nurses is predicted to increase by 23 percent by 2016.

One-year certificate programs provide vocational training in a relatively short period of time, allowing students to become qualified for numerous positions in finance, banking and health care. Other certificate-based curriculum programs enable students to gain employment in the computer and technology job sectors.

An online community college directory can help students to research and identify nearby schools as well as degree programs. A community college directory can give students an overview of to expect in their coursework, describe tuition and financial aid, and provide job prospects for people enrolled in their degree programs.