The University Network

The Many Benefits Of Attending A Community College — Interview With Dr. Martha Parham, Sr. Vice President of Public Relations At AACC

TUN sits down with Dr. Martha Parham, senior vice president of public relations at the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), to discuss the benefits of attending a community college.

TUN: Dr. Parham, thanks so much for joining us. 

DR. PARHAM: Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here!

When I ask you about the benefits of attending a community college, what comes to mind? What are the first things you think of?

Well, I think local. Generally speaking, there’s a community college in your neighborhood. 

Certainly, price comes to mind. The cost of community college is about one-third of what it costs to attend an in-state university. So, saving money is certainly a good benefit. 

And, I think community colleges are great springboards into a bachelor’s degree. So, if a bachelor’s degree is what you’re looking for, attending a community college first is a great way to get it and save some money in the process. 

And, finally, community colleges also provide career training and classes like welding and culinary arts. If you don’t want to take a traditional college pathway, community college provides thousands of other options for you as you look to create your own career. 

We’ll get into a couple of things you touched on there a little bit later in this interview. But I’ve read that community colleges can put you in a more intimate setting because of the smaller class sizes. Is that something that you find to be true? 

Absolutely. But, just like four-year universities, it can be true at some colleges and not others. 

Certainly, we have very large community colleges. If you look at Miami Dade Community College or Lone Star Community College, some of them may have larger classrooms and larger classes. 

But, for the most part, yes. You can get a more intimate setting. You can get to know your teachers and professors. 

It has been my experience that a lot of teachers at community colleges also teach at the university level. So, you’re getting great instructors. You’re getting an accredited education. In many cases, like you said, you’re getting an education in that smaller environment. 

There’s the common narrative that community colleges, compared to four-year schools, won’t set you up for a successful or lucrative career. What do you say to that?

I say you should talk to George Lucas and maybe Arnold Schwarzenegger. Some of our community college alumni can beg to differ with that. 

Community colleges are a great way to set your path. If you are looking to advance your career, in many cases, you can get your first two years done at a community college. You can save a lot of money while setting yourself up for better financial success. 

I think that community colleges have been this launching place for thousands and thousands of very successful people. 

You did touch on this earlier, but I want to break it down a little bit more. Say a student does want to use community college as a springboard into a four-year institution. Is there anything that students should be aware of before making that decision? I know there have been concerns about credits transferring and stuff like that in the past. 

I think you hit the nail on the head. It’s all about credit transfer. If your goal is to transfer to a four-year university, my recommendation would be to make sure that you have the requirements from that four-year university and that you back into what classes you would need to take at the community college and make sure they’re transferable. 

Community colleges have a lot of resources to help students do this. Sometimes it depends on what state you’re in. In California, for example, there are very clearly articulated pathways to that four-year university. 

Many colleges have what they call articulation agreements with four-year universities. So, go to your counselor or your academic advisor at the community college and make sure that the classes and the pathway that you’re taking will transfer to that program that you’re really looking to go to for your bachelor’s degree. 

Can you speak to the benefits of choosing to take that path? Is it advisable for some specific students more so than others? Is it a good idea for students who don’t know what they want to major in to go to a community college first?

If you’re not quite sure what you want to major in and not quite sure what university you want to go to, going to a community college is a great way to use your time wisely. 

We know that students who decide to take a gap year or don’t want to go to college immediately, a lot of them never come back. So, attending a community college is a great way to take a few classes, figure out what you’re interested in and then get on that pathway. 

You can do it at one-third of the price of a regular in-state, four-year university. You can still live at home or live someplace that’s close to home. You can get your feet wet, so to speak. You have some options at a community college.

Maybe you choose one of those career pathways that will lead you straight into the world of work. A lot of those can now transfer to degree-seeking possibilities as well. 

Community colleges provide so many options that it can be a little overwhelming. But, if it’s something that you’re interested in, go talk to your counselor and really check out what they have to offer. There are a lot of resources to help you get to where you want to go. 

Thank you very much, Dr. Parham, for joining us.

Thank you. And, enroll in your local community college!

This interview has been edited for clarity. Watch the full video here.