Community College or Four-Year University?


The photo depicts the front side of Portland Community College located on 82nd in Southeast Portland, Oregon. This is the most common 2-year college students attend in Portland.

Photo by Colette Greif

College debt is a major concern for seniors and high-school graduates, so what factors should students consider before they go off and attend a community college or a four-year university, whether they choose to live in-state or out-of-state? Many students might have already made up their minds completely about where they want to go, and others may still have no clue or can’t seem to decide. But there are some things about four year and community college that not all students might know, such as how to know if a  prospective college is worth the cost.

It is true that when applying for a career in a certain field, some employers will be eager to see a resume from a graduate of a four-year university like Harvard or Princeton rather than a regular community college. However, although many graduates aspire to attend their “dream school” or are pressured to get into a fancy big-league school, no one should leave high school being haunted by thousands of dollars in debt looming behind them years and years later. It is important for high school graduates and teenagers in general to think about what is the best choice for their futures and what they want to pursue after high school.

“I’m a huge proponent for community colleges in Oregon,” says Holly Vaughn-Edmonds, a counselor at Franklin High School. She states that now, more than ever, there are many available resources for students to be able to have access to college. It is also more beneficial for students who are working and need to support their families to go to community college since living in a dorm is expensive. Edmonds explains that at a university, “[classes] cost three times as much than at a community college.” Because it is so easily accessible, some students will go to a four year and then come back to community college to take more classes. It is also much easier to go to a local college when you live close to one, since most of them don’t offer rooms.

However, in Edmonds’ own case, she states that “I knew that I wanted to go to a four-year school,” and she elaborates that, “I looked at both public and private schools and decided I wanted to go to a private school.”

Edmonds explains that merit-based scholarships were what got her in the first place, and

she was fortunate that her parents planned for her to go to college and helped her pay for her tuition. “I was very privileged that way,” she says.

Although there seems to be an assumption that going to a two-year college means that you weren’t able to get accepted anywhere else, since “anyone can get into a community college,” some graduates do so for financial reasons, more flexible schedules so they can focus on work, and freedom to focus on their education and taking all the classes they want. That’s why students who are uncertain about finishing their schooling or getting a degree are more likely to benefit from attending a two-year college. Another benefit to community college for students who are thinking of transferring to a university is that “it allows you to study different areas and take different classes before feeling the pressure to find your major and stick to it, and it also helps get you ready for the faster pace of a university,” according to Jamie Maggard. Maggard attended PCC for two years before transferring to PSU to earn her bachelor’s degree. She was also a Future Connect applicant and she claims that the program assisted her throughout her higher level education at PCC. “At that time I wasn’t sure if or how I was going to afford a college degree. If it wasn’t for the Future Connect scholarship program I am not sure what my education would look like now.” The Future Connect program is a scholarship that is designed to eliminate the barriers of getting into college. “This program also provided more one-on-one support by assigning each student their own mentor to use as a resource when faced with any challenge during their two years at PCC.”

Maggard states that after she completed two years at PCC, she decided it was time to take her education further and get her degree. She observed that the level of the “passion” and “engagement” the teachers had with students at PSU was not that much different than at PCC. “Overall, the shift was difficult for me because I became so comfortable at PCC and it was more cost effective for me to be there. I would say that it took me about a year at PSU to finally get used to the campus, the class schedules/options, and the culture.” Maggard concludes that for her, starting out at a two-year college before transferring to PSU was the most practical way to take her education because it costs less, it lets you test the waters before committing to a major, and the classes are much more flexible. “Although, I have talked to friends whom will disagree because of reasons like certain credits are not transferable from a community college, or people don’t take class seriously, etc,” says Maggard.

However, for people like Edmonds who were fortunate to find a way to pay for their education, she found that immediately attending a private four-year university was absolutely worth the cost. In conclusion, it all depends on what the student wants to do with their own education, whether they are able to take on the responsibility of a four-year college and are certain about achieving their college degree, or if they simply want to continue pursuing their education and experimenting in different fields without worrying as much about the cost.

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