According to those in the know, there are several reasons why students choose to start their education at a community college before transferring to a four-year school.
One important reason is accessibility through an "open door policy," says Chris Dewey, counseling chairperson at Triton Community College. "We don't have any admission requirements in terms of GPA or ACT scores," she says. "So those students who were not strong in high school who decide at the last minute to go to college can do that. Education is accessible."
Cost is another important factor that appeals to economically minded students and their parents.
"Community colleges have always been a good bargain — and are particularly so during the current economic environment," says Cliff Casey, manager, advising services, Oakton Community College. "For those students who may not be able to afford a traditional four-year college, or perhaps have not yet determined an academic or career path, community colleges offer an affordable education."
Dewey says students can come to Triton and get an associate degree for $5,000. "We have a payment plan and you don't have to have that money up front but you can sign up to pay through the semester."
Triton is in College District 504, serving 25 towns in western Cook County.
Tuition at Oakton effective summer 2012 is $93.75 per semester hour for residents of District 535. College District 535 serves 450,000 residents in the communities of Evanston, Glencoe, Glenview, Golf, Kenilworth, Lincolnwood, Morton Grove, Niles, Northbrook, Northfield, Park Ridge, Skokie, Wilmette, Winnetka, and parts of Des Plaines, Mount Prospect and Rosemont.
Convenience is another factor both cite as to the benefit of a community college.
"Community colleges are also convenient to home and offer a wide variety of educational options, including non-credit courses for the non-degree-seeking student," says Casey.
There is also the convenience of weekend classes and online classes, says Dewey.
"There are different options from which to choose," she adds. "The community college student is unique. Our students have such full plates. They are parents, they work full time — it is a juggling act that amazes me. We at the community college have a mantra: Diversity is not just in culture or race, but it is in age and the different issues people deal with."
Oakton's current data indicates that 42 percent of first-time, full-time students transfer to four-year institutions within three years of entering Oakton.
In fiscal year 2010, Triton had a total of 1,345 graduates, composed of 905 who graduated with an associate degree and 440 who graduated with a certificate.
Of the 1,345 graduates, 262 (19.5 percent) enrolled at a four-year school sometime during the following fiscal year. Of the 905 associate degree graduates, 227 (25.1 percent) enrolled at a four-year school during the following fiscal year.
To facilitate advanced degrees Triton is part of The University Center, a partnership it shares with five universities — National Louis, Benedictine, Governors State,
Both schools hold transfer college fairs. Triton's Future Focus 2012 will be held Sept. 18. Oakton holds two events in the fall: State University Transfer Day and Private Illinois Colleges and Universities Transfer Day.
Dewey uses herself as a good example of what a community college can do for a person who was not on a higher education track. She had been a secretary who got fired for inadvertently hanging up on the wrong person. "I figured out then that I had better go to college," she says with a laugh.
She enrolled at Triton and then transferred to
To get community college students on the transfer track we asked Casey and Dewey for tips to keep in mind.
• Begin planning early. Investigate schools you want to transfer to as soon as possible. Research the schools you believe are serious contenders for you. Oakton provides students with a suggested list of characteristics to consider: size, cost, reputation for program of study, and location. Visit the schools.
• Determine courses to take to meet the transfer requirements. Meet with your counselor to get assistance with scheduling and program planning, as well as what degree to focus on.
• Be certain to learn about the specific course/GPA prerequisites for your chosen major and general institution graduation requirements. Be aware that there may be a difference between the GPA required to enter a school and the GPA needed to enroll in a specific major. Maintain that major GPA.
• Communicate regularly with the chosen four-year institution. Communicate via e-mail. Follow-up phone or face-to-face contact with e-mail. Keep a record of information and directions.