Saturday, October 08, 2005

First Stop: Community College

(MF) - When Rhoda Alfeche was looking at colleges to attend, she didn’t want to use her parents’ retirement savings on her education. She also didn’t know what to major in, which could’ve meant spending money on the wrong classes. Instead of passing on school altogether, she chose another alternative.

"Since I was undecided, I thought it best to earn my liberal arts credits from a community college," Alfeche said. "I could easily get the same classes at less than half the price at a community college compared with a private university."

Alfeche isn’t alone. Students who are tight on funds, undecided about their majors or unsure if college is right for them are turning to two-year colleges and technical institutes. In fact, 45 percent of all U.S. undergraduates attend community colleges, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.

"Community colleges serve students from all backgrounds," said Stephen J. Handel of the College Board, which administers programs to help students prepare for college. "Community colleges are a great stepping stone towards earning a bachelor’s degree and meeting your career goals."

Students can choose from a wide range of vocational, technical and liberal arts programs, including fashion design or engineering technology. Those who decide to pursue a bachelor’s degree can transfer their credits to a four-year school, while others opt to test their new skills in the workforce.

"The quality of the facilities and instruction at community colleges is usually very high, and often faculty have jobs in the fields that they teach, giving students a leg up in their job search," Handel said.

An associate’s degree can be earned in about two years, while a certificate program takes six months to a year to complete.

How can students find the right community college for them? Books like the College Board College Handbook 2006 and many online sources offer information on schools across the nation, including what majors they offer, tuition costs and class sizes.

"I went to school alongside a majority of nontraditional students - single mothers, people going through career transitions and immigrants," Alfeche said. "If you want an education on the world beyond the classroom, go to community college."

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On the Net:
College Board site: http://www.collegeboard.com
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