Due to circumstances in my teen years, I had to go to a community college before transferring to a university. While it wasn’t my first choice, today I consider myself fortunate. More high …
Due to circumstances in my teen years, I had to go to a community college before transferring to a university. While it wasn’t my first choice, today I consider myself fortunate. More high school graduates should consider the benefits of starting their studies at two-year institutions, especially now that so many classes in the fall will be offered only online.
I spent my high school years living in extreme poverty, so when it came time to take the SATs, I had to choose between paying the testing fee and eating. Needless to say, I chose the latter. And being basically homeless, I wasn’t thinking a lot about where I was going to college anyway.
After high school, I moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and it would be several years before I decided to pursue a college degree. Without SAT scores, I had to take an alternative test to get accepted to the University of New Mexico, but it had been a long time since I sat in a classroom. I didn’t do very well on the test. I later learned if I had enough credits from a community college, I could transfer to UNM without SAT scores. Though unenthused with the option, it seemed the most feasible if I was to get a degree. So, I enrolled at Albuquerque Technical-Vocational Institute, which has since changed its name to Central New Mexico Community College.
Like many young people, I really had no idea what I wanted to do. I just majored in history because I found it interesting. In my second semester I took a job with the school newspaper, and after a week there, I switched my major to journalism.
Surveys of students entering college consistently show that 20% to 50% are undecided on a major, and 75% change their major at least once before graduating with a degree. While I certainly enjoyed those history classes, I spent nearly two semesters of tuition on classes I ultimately didn’t need for graduation. This was back in the early 2000s when tuition was a fraction of what it is today, but I’m glad I didn’t spend thousands at UNM for the same classes.
It’s a lot to expect freshmen entering college to know precisely what they want to do with their lives, and spending your first years at a community college provides a pressure-free way to sample careers before settling on a definite direction, without taking on a lot of debt in the process.
After two years at TVI, I transferred over to UNM to complete my bachelor’s degree. I was spending considerably more money, but the quality of the instruction at UNM was not entirely better. I had some great professors at the university, but they were not any better than those at TVI. In one way, though, community college actually offered me a better education. When I transferred to UNM, I went from small classes with a couple dozen students to giant lecture halls with 200 students.
I estimate I saved approximately $18,000 going to a two-year institution for the first part of my education. At today’s tuition rates, that savings would be closer to $22,500. My only regret is that I didn’t enroll at TVI sooner. Those gap years I spent between high school and college delayed my career several years.
Estimates are that one in five students are considering taking the fall off due to campus closures and classes moving to online formats. Rather than delaying graduation and their careers, students would be wiser to get started on their college degrees right away at a community college — such as Northwest College, for example. They can get the same quality education at a lower price, and universities will be waiting for them when they’re ready to transfer.