The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Waiting to make the jump

When it came time to choose a college, cost became the deciding factor for Kelsey Nielsen, a freshman at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake, Ill.

Nielsen was awarded a large scholarship to Carthage College in Kenosha, but decided to go to a two-year school initially to save money. She said she plans to use the scholarship when she transfers to Carthage in the fall of 2008.

Nielsen isn't alone in her decision. Applications to community colleges have been on the rise over the past decade, according to Norma Kent, vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.

According to Kent, about 12 million students currently attend two-year community colleges nationwide, and about 6 million of those students are taking classes for credit.

Many of those students use their respective community colleges as a launching pad to finish the last two years of a degree at a four-year college or university.

Sources say the reasons for choosing a community college can vary greatly.

Older students make up the majority of community college students. According to the American Association of Community Colleges Web site, students' average age is 29. For these students, conflicts with work or family obligations can influence the decision.

Those students often can't travel far from home to get their education, which makes community colleges convenient.

"Our cost is just over $2,000 per year, which, (in comparison to four-year schools) is quite reasonable," Kent said.

For students like Nielsen, starting their college career at a two-year institution is a smart economic choice.

"We're more reasonably priced," said Dan Cibrario, associate director of student services at the University of Wisconsin-Washington County.

UW-Washington County is one of 13 two-year colleges in the UW system.

According to Cibrario, some high school seniors choose a community college because they may not have been able to get into a four-year school initially.

"Some students who can't qualify for the UW can prove they can do the work here," Cibrario said. "A lot of students come here not being good students out of high school, but are inspired by our professors to succeed."

Cibrario also said the individualized attention that students get from professors and the small class sizes contribute to student success.

Nielsen agreed that those factors are a big help. She said her largest class has 22 students while her smallest has seven, and that the classes aren't a big change from high school.

"The professors pay more attention to you," she said.

While Nielsen said the courses were similar to high school, that doesn't mean community college graduates aren't prepared to move on to larger universities after two years.

Kent said 25 percent to 27 percent of community college students transfer into a four-year school and most are ready to make the transition.

"There's usually a period of settling in, but they tend to perform as well or better than the native students," Kent said.

Nielsen said she thinks her transition will go well.

"The education is the same," she said. "I think the transition will be easier than being an incoming freshman because I'll already know what college is all about."

Nielsen said she did think she was missing out on one part of college, however.

"The social aspect (at community college) is a little dry because you aren't thrown into social situations with people," Nielsen said. "(But it) gives me the opportunity to make some connections before I move out and go to a bigger school."

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