The New Face of Community College and 5 Things to Consider Before Applying

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Community colleges have often been stereotyped as a second-tier education for people who don’t have the grades or the money to get into a public university or private school.

They’ve fought that reputation for a long time, and some – including the one mentioned in the video below – have dropped the word “community” from their names in recent years. But as a CNN report makes clear, these colleges (with much lower tuition rates than universities) rely on the community to survive. For some, that means partnering with local businesses.

Those businesses offer internships and can help tailor the curriculum for getting related jobs, meaning community college grads could have an advantage: Training for specialized jobs that university grads may not be equipped for. On top of that, the federal government pumped more than $1 billion into workforce training programs at community colleges through the 2009 stimulus package, and last year began a $2 billion initiative for improving these schools.

In short, community colleges are evolving.

To hear more about the changes at these schools, check out the video from Money Talks News reporter Jim Robinson below. And if you think attending one might be a good idea, read on for some other things to consider.

Over the next decade, the government expects 80 percent of new jobs will require higher education and workforce training. President Obama has set a goal of 5 million additional community college grads for that span. Many people will use these schools like Christy Nieman in the video above – as a tuition-saving stepping stone to a higher degree. Others will seek technical training and certifications and wrap up their education in just two years. Whatever your approach to higher education, here are some things to consider:

1. Career high schools teach trade skills.

Sometimes even community college may be unnecessary, depending on the profession you choose and when you choose it. In When a High School Diploma Beats a College Degree, we talk about high schools that offer certifications for free as part of regular coursework. Also take a look at 5 Jobs in Demand That Don’t Require a Degree.

2. Some schools don’t charge tuition.

According to this article in Businessweek, there are at least 11 schools that offer a tuition-free education for some students, including:

Admission requirements vary. Schools may require work study or excellent grades. You can find out specifics in the article or by visiting each school’s website.

3. You may qualify for financial aid.

A lot of people think they don’t, and never apply. But many students could get thousands in grants and scholarships based on many factors, including income, grades, where they live, and who they are. Check out 6 Top Tips for Finding College Aid and 25 Bizarre Scholarships.

4. Credit doesn’t always transfer.

It’s possible to take a community college course and not get transfer credit for it at a university, even if it has the same name and seemingly covers the same material. If you have a university in mind as a transfer goal, speak with an adviser at both schools to make sure classes from the community college transfer, and get some documentation. Transferring within a state sometimes makes this easier, as schools may share standards and course labeling practices, and the schools may have a specific agreement in place. The College Board’s MatchMaker can help you find schools.

5. You can get credit in other ways.

It’s possible to get college credit in high school through Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Ask a high school guidance counselor if they offer any. Students who take these courses have to take an $87 exam to prove they learned the material in exchange for the credit, but that’s hundreds cheaper than taking the same class in college.

There are also college-level examination program (CLEP) exams that don’t require taking a class for credit – just prove mastery of the subject on a $77 exam (some schools also add a fee to administer it) and you save time and money. Of course, only take the test if you’re confident you understand the material; these tests are best suited for self-starters and those who have taken an equivalent course where credit didn’t transfer.

At some schools, introductory courses can be taken online for as cheap as $40: Read about that in College for $1,000 a Year?

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