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The choice between two-year and four-year schools

DR. JOHN MCHUGH
Guest columnist

With the ever-increasing cost of a college education, many students are choosing to attend a two-year community college first and then transferring to a four-year university. Here at Gaston College, a two-year degree will cost in the region of $4,500. At a four-year university this may or may not cover all the costs for one semester.
If a student enrolls in a local community college first, he/she can live at home and maybe have a part-time job which will also help with all the expenses of a college education.
Another point to consider is that we see a lot of students who went off to college somewhere out of town or out of state, and ended up not focusing on their studies. They may not have been ready to handle the responsibilities that come with being out on their own for the first time. Their GPA may have suffered and they were placed on academic probation. Some of these young people come back and enroll in Gaston College in order to bring up their GPA so that they can return to the university in good standing. I believe that it helps some students to spend two years at a community college first before going off on their own. They can do a lot of maturing in those two years and may be more focused if, and when, they decide to go off on their own to a four year institution.
Many years ago, there were classes that did not transfer from a two year college to a four year university, but that has all changed now. We have in place the North Carolina Comprehensive Articulation Agreement (CAA) which is a statewide agreement governing the transfer of credits between NC community colleges and NC public universities and has as its objective the smooth transfer of students. The CAA provides certain assurances to the transferring student — for example: it assures admission to one of the 16 UNC institutions (Transfer Assured Admissions Policy) and enables NC community college graduates of two-year Associate in Arts and Associate in Science degree programs who are admitted to constituent institutions of the University of North Carolina system to transfer with junior status.
There is a NC College Guide for Students available online, which goes into more detail about this agreement as has a section on frequently asked questions.
If you are a non-traditional student (usually that just means someone who graduated high school a number of years ago) with a family and a job, you will find it easier to attend a local community college than to attend a university. Community colleges by their very definition are typically located within easy commuting distance for a majority of students in this area.
Community colleges tend to have smaller class sizes. At the Lincoln Campus, class sizes rarely get above 25 students. I remember taking a class at UNC Charlotte and there were over 200 students in that one class. The overall number of students impacts other areas of campus life too. For example, the more students on campus, the longer each student will have to wait in line to meet with an advisor, to buy books, to find a parking space, etc. At a larger college, a student may not get that same individual attention that he/she would get at a smaller college. In one of the recent student-surveys that I sent out, small class sizes and having a caring instructor were listed as the top two reasons what students like about the Lincoln Campus.
Gaston College is a highly ranked community college and offers many award-winning courses and programs. I attended Gaston College myself and I firmly believe that it prepared me well for transferring to UNC Charlotte. After transferring to UNC Charlotte, I had to compete with other applicants for a highly coveted scholarship. I was successful in obtaining the scholarship thanks to get great educational foundation that I received at Gaston College. If I had the choice to do it all over again by either going directly to UNC Charlotte or going to Gaston College first and then transferring to UNC Charlotte, I know that I would chose to go to Gaston College first.
If you are thinking about attending the Lincoln Campus and need some more information, please call 704-748-5200

Dr. John McHugh is Dean of Gaston College’s Lincoln Campus.

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