Is a community college a higher education

You know you want to be a nurse, or a dental assistant, or a pediatrician. Helping people is a must, and no other career field appeals to you as much as healthcare does. But higher education can be expensive, and you need to work while in school, or maybe you have two littles at home who need your full attention. Balancing work, family, and a degree can be tough, but it doesn’t have to hinder you from a college education and a successful career working with patients in need.

Healthcare remains one of the fastest-growing sectors in the economy today. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates an 18% increase in the number of healthcare jobs between 2016 and 2026. And while four-year universities and for-profit schools have certificate and degree programs to help fill this demand, they may not have the flexibility or the cost structures that many students need. Let’s take a closer look at how community colleges are helping students get the healthcare training they need without breaking the bank.

With cost a major concern for many students, community college is a good alternative for those pursuing health care disciplines. According to The College Board, students at public two-year colleges paid an average tuition of $3,660 during the 2018-2019 school year, compared to $37,430 for students at public four-year colleges and $35,830 at four-year private colleges. In addition, since many community college students don’t live on campus, they often save money on room and board, which can drive down their education-related expenses even further.

In some cases, students can actually take advantage of community college for free. Seventeen states across the country offer reduced or free tuition to community college students who meet certain academic and financial criteria. Depending on the state, this may include maintaining a specific grade point average and/or falling below a pre-determined household income.

Can you enroll at community college and receive financial aid? Absolutely. Too many students mistakenly believe that financial aid is reserved for attending a four-year university. If you’re applying to a community college for your healthcare education program, talk to a financial aid counselor about one (or more) of the following options:

Federal Direct Subsidized Loans:

Available to undergraduate students who meet the eligibility requirements have demonstrated financial need. The school you attend will determine the amount of money you’ll need, and the government will pay the interest for you as long as you’re enrolled at least half time, for the first six months after you leave school, and during any grace period that may be granted.

Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans: Very similar to subsidized loans, but with a number of key differences:

1. Not requirement to demonstrate financial need.

2. The student is responsible for all interest payments both during and after the borrowing period.

3. Interest will accrue over time (and be added to the principle balance) if not paid.

For detailed information on other financial aid/loan options, read through our online guide to financial aid or visit The U.S. Department of Education.

Although financial aid may be the norm, never underestimate the value (and availability) of free money. Millions of scholarship dollars (literally) go unused each year because students fail to apply. Before taking out loans to pay your college bills, look for scholarships in the healthcare field. Non-profits and private organizations across the country offer scholarships to community college students enrolled in programs across all of allied health.

Financial Aid & Scholarships

At four-year colleges and universities, professors are under the constant pressure to “publish or perish.” They are often juggling teaching, researching, and writing articles to be published in academic journals. Although community college professors may be academically minded, many have less pressure to focus on their non-teaching responsibilities. In addition, community college professors are often experienced (and currently working) health care professionals, which gives students first-hand, real-world knowledge and experience to take from the classroom to their first career opportunity.

Faculty Dedicated to Teaching

When students attend large colleges and universities, they are often required to take courses held in lecture halls that hold hundreds of students, which can be overwhelming and impersonal. At community colleges, courses generally have 25 to 35 students and the larger classes tend not to exceed 50 students.

Smaller class sizes offer more chances to interact with instructors, which can yield more individualized attention and facilitate stronger academic and professional relationships. In these smaller environments, students can also participate in engaging classroom discussions, get questions answered quickly, and receive personal feedback in real time. While these benefits may be available at larger four-year colleges and universities, they can also be harder to come by.

For many students, taking a break from working to earn a degree is simply not an option. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 43 percent of full-time undergraduates held down a job in 2017, while 81 percent of part-time students worked while going to school. As a result, students who attend colleges and universities may have a hard time finding the flexibility they need because the courses they’re required to complete may only be offered during work hours. At community colleges, many classes may be offered in the evening or on weekends, which can help them maintain a healthier school-life balance. Community colleges are often more flexible when it comes to part-time programs, as well.

While not restricted to community colleges, online learning has become a staple at the two-year level. Not only can students often finish class work at their own pace by taking these courses, they can also save additional money because they don’t have to worry about the expenses associated with traveling to campus. In addition, students who enroll in fully online classes can take advantage of the same campus services that other students enjoy, sharpen their technology skills, and connect with professors and other students.

In some cases, community colleges may offer hybrid classes that combine online and on-campus work. This can be a good option for students, as it allows them to have some level of flexibility with their coursework, while still getting the benefits of face-to-face interaction with professors and classmates.

Online courses are not only convenient for students, but they’re also becoming more common. According to data compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics, 3,034,261 students in public colleges across the country were enrolled in at least one online course in 2017, a 7.18 percent increase from the previous year. Also, there were 1,657,959 students enrolled in degree programs delivered completely online, a 7.22 percent increase from 2016.

Online & Hybrid Learning

Just like undergraduate degrees at four-year colleges and universities, health-related programs at community colleges require students to complete general education classes. These classes, which can include English composition, mathematics, psychology, and economics, give students the foundation needed to pursue any health career they choose, as well as a higher-level degree program by helping them hone their critical thinking, oral communication, and writing skills.

In addition, for those who think they may want to complete a degree at a four-year college at some point, community college is a great way for them to affordably earn the general education credits they will be required to complete in their bachelor’s degree program. However, it’s important for students to do research on the colleges or universities they’re interested in to ensure that they will be able to make a smooth transition to another program. The following explains some of the factors that these students should think about when they explore transfer opportunities.

  • Transfer Agreements

    Transfer agreements, also known as articulation agreements, are partnerships with four-year colleges and universities designed to encourage students to pursue a bachelor’s degree. Although these agreements make it easier for community college graduates to complete a four-year degree, following them to the letter is critical. Straying from a credit transfer or articulation agreement can lead to lost credits or retaking courses you’ve already passed.
  • Pipeline Programs

    Pipeline programs help students interested in earning health professions degrees—like medical and dental school degrees—have an easier pathway to meeting their goals. To do this, health professions schools create partnerships with undergraduate institutions to offer conditional acceptance to students who meet high academic standards.

For high school graduates who aren’t sure if they’re ready for higher education, community college can be a great first step. In addition to the smaller and more personal instructional environments, community colleges often provide advisors to help students map our their programs and get their financial aid in order. Many schools also facilitate transitions to four-year colleges and universities, helping students navigate credit needs and articulation agreements.

Some students can’t spend four years training for a career, so they seek a shorter-term option that allows them to begin working as soon as possible. This makes community college a great option, with many healthcare certificates, diplomas, and associate degree programs ranging from a few weeks to two years. For example, those who train to become phlebotomists can finish their programs in 6 – 9 months, future medical assistants in twelve months, and veterinary technologists in two years. Since these programs incorporate intensive classwork and rigorous hands-on training, students can graduate in a shorter period of time while saving money on their education.    

Many community colleges form partnerships with local organizations that hire allied health graduates. This is a win for companies and schools alike because they work in concert to guarantee that students are learning the skills that employers need. These partnerships may also mean that students have job placement opportunities after graduation, saving them the time of an extensive job hunt when they complete their degrees.

To make community college and business partnerships work, organizations put in a great deal of effort, which can include activities such as advice on coursework, helping to implement internship programs, assisting with the college’s outreach to attract students to their programs, and providing qualified members of their profession who can work as instructors. The following are examples of some successful partnerships that schools and organizations have created.

Partnership 1: Portland Community College

Portland Community College partnered with assisted living and residential care facilities in the area to create a residential certificate program that addressed the competencies these employers wanted, so they would have a workforce that was qualified to help meet their residents’ physical and emotional needs. The program, which became nationally recognized as a pioneering training model for the industry, included coursework on personal care, working with patients who have diabetes, resident service plans, and workplace responsibilities. As a result of the program, the staff at these facilities became better caregivers, and in some cases, workers became so advanced that they were able to go on to train other professionals to work at these organizations.

Partnership 2: Bristol Community College

In order to help boost the knowledge and skills of employees working with those struggling with addiction, treatment facility Stanley Street Treatment and Resources, along with the Trundy Institute of Addiction Counseling, worked with Bristol Community College to create a four-credit program that would teach workers how to effectively provide services to people receiving care on an inpatient and outpatient basis. In addition, the program would give frontline workers the opportunity to earn state certifications and qualify for an increase in pay. Since its creation, the program has grown and now Bristol Community College is offering a fifteen-credit program that helps to prepare students to receive a national certification.

Partnership 3: Owensboro Community & Technical College

Owensboro Community & Technical College and Owensboro Medical Health System, which is one of the largest medical facilities in Kentucky, came together to create an accelerated nursing degree program that would give health care workers like nursing aides, unit clerks, and pharmacy technicians the opportunity to get the training they needed to move up in their careers. The program, which takes three years to complete, includes online coursework and hands-on training at the hospital, so students could conveniently continue working as they earned their degrees. The program has been successful, with 75 percent of students earning their registered nursing certification.