Advantages of Community Colleges

Community colleges are often geared toward local students and local needs. Students who could not afford campus or off-site housing at a four-year college, or for other reasons cannot relocate, can attend courses while staying in their local community (though some colleges do offer student housing). Also, community colleges can work with local businesses to develop customized training geared toward local needs, whereas a four-year institution generally focuses on state-wide or national needs. Some community colleges have "concurrent enrollment" programs, allowing local high school students to "jump start" their college career by taking classes at the community college that count both toward their high school diploma and as college credit (mainly in core areas such as history and political science). Policies and classes offered vary with different agreements existing between the community college and high schools.

Many top-ranking high school students complete their associate's degree prior to high school graduation through participation in Post Secondary Enrollment Option programs available in several states including Minnesota, Iowa, and Ohio. The student's local high school must pay the tuition, fees, and textbook charges for the student. The student (and family) pays little or nothing for the semesters of education while earning an associate's degree.

The "open enrollment" policy benefits students who would not qualify for enrollment in a traditional university (such as those with mediocre high school academic records or who did not graduate from high school and later obtained a GED), students who recognized the benefits of college education relatively late in life, and students whose personal obligations or limited financial resources prevented them from attending college on the traditional schedule.

In North America, tuition and fees are substantially lower than those of traditional four-year public or private institutions. Students from low-income families, those having to work to pay for their education, or those simply wishing to reduce the total cost of a planned four year education benefit from the reduced costs. In addition, many colleges offer and accept scholarships or educational grants.

Fewer community colleges each year have little or no time limits during which classes must be taken or a degree must be earned. Increasingly, colleges do not allow some classes taken more than seven (or so) years earlier to count towards an associate degree; this is an effort to ensure accuracy of time-sensitive 'knowledge.' Similarly, many four-year schools, tired of "professional students" taking up limited space, have imposed limits on when a degree can be earned. Thus, students who cannot take a full-time load for whatever reason (family, job, etc.), are under less pressure to complete courses in a limited time frame at community colleges

Four-year colleges often give priority to students transferring from community colleges, citing their demonstrated preparedness for junior and senior college-level work. Students who may not have been able to attend a particular college after high school (whether for academic, financial, or personal reasons) may now be able to attend the college of their choice. Several states have regulations requiring the associate's degree in a particular field to be automatically credited towards the core curriculum for a four-year degree at another state university or private university.

Community college professors are solely dedicated to teaching, and classes are generally small, about the size of a standard high school class. In comparison, a four-year college course may be taught to 300+ students by a teaching assistant, while the professor is concentrating on research. Outside of those teaching in the technical and vocational fields, most instructors at community colleges have master's degrees and many hold doctoral degrees. In addition, community college professors can help students achieve their goals, work more closely with them, and offer them support, while at a four-year college, a professor's primary mission is to conduct academic research, with most of their remaining attention focused on mentoring graduate students.

A number of community colleges have athletic programs; certain colleges also serve as incubators for college athletes, particularly in basketball and football. A talented player who would not meet the academic or athletic standards of a major college program may be able to play for two years in junior college, establishing an academic record in the process, and then transfer to the major college. In addition, many baseball players at community colleges have gone to play for major colleges and/or the major leagues. Others offer no athletic programs.

Research shows that there is no learning or income penalty for individuals who start at a community college and transfer to a four-year institution. Additionally, research indicates that students who begin their higher education career at a community college are more likely to transfer to a higher quality four-year institution than if they had started at a four-year college.

Holders of a two-year associates degree have more immediate earning potential than students with >2 years of higher education but did not earn a degree.