Enrollment in community colleges across the nation has grown considerably over the past few years. There are many reasons for this such as lower costs, growth in certificate and workforce development programs, their campuses are within easy driving distance, and four-year colleges are being more selective and require more for admission.
The approximate costs for a two-year associates degree at a community college is $4,500. If you compare that with the costs associated with four-year institutions, you will realize that $4,500 may not cover one semester at those four-year institutions and that is only for their tuition!
Many students and parents have figured out there can be substantial savings available by spending two years at a local community college first. The student can live at home, work, and save some extra money before going off to a four-year institution. The student will also be two years older and wiser, which may mean better decision-making skills later on. I have seen many students who went off to a four-year college right after high school and may not have made the best decisions that first year.
Some of them came back home and enrolled at Gaston College in order to improve their GPA before being allowed to transfer back to the four-year institution. I spent my first two years at Gaston College, before transferring to UNC-Charlotte, and, looking back on it, I was glad I did it this way, for many reasons.
The growth of certificate programs is an important trend for community colleges. Most certificates involve specific, work-related training, which may be obtained in one year or less. Many of our community college students neither want nor need to pursue lengthy educational programs. The certificate programs appeal to those who want to upgrade current skills or simply acquire new skills in order to increase their workplace marketability. A growing number of experienced workers who have a bachelor’s degree attend community colleges for computer classes and other instruction to keep current with new workplace technologies. Gaston College offers a variety of certificates and degrees that require different time frames to complete.
In the past, community colleges have provided an opportunity for many young people who otherwise would have been denied access to higher education. These community colleges offer associate degrees that may serve as a low-cost base, then the student pursues their academic program at four-year institutions. Many community colleges have transfer agreements with four-year institutions.
Under these agreements, the four-year institutions accept community college credits toward bachelor’s degree requirements. These transfer agreements allow students to complete the first two years of their coursework at a community college, thereby reducing the cost of obtaining a four-year bachelor’s degree. The North Carolina Comprehensive Articulation Agreement (CAA) is a statewide agreement governing the transfer of credits between community colleges and public universities. Transfer of credits between community colleges and private colleges in the state is governed by The North Carolina Independent Articulation Agreement (ICAA). Articulation agreements mean that a student can take classes at Gaston College within the framework of these agreements, and then these classes will transfer to other institutions that are part of these agreements.
If you have any questions about any of our programs, feel free to call us at 704-748-5200, or better yet, come by and visit us in person. We are located at 511 South Aspen Street, Lincolnton, 28092.
John McHugh, Ed D., is Dean of the Lincoln Campus of Gaston College.