Stairway to Select Schools and Good Paying Jobs at a Fraction of the Cost – Community College

By Sam Rosensohn

Heather Carlson graduated from Hale-Ray High School in East Haddam and could have started her freshmen year at Central Connecticut State University, but chose instead to go to Middlesex Community College.

Two years and a grand total of $4,500 in tuition later, Heather is transferring to Central to finish her degree in education. Heather is excited about becoming an elementary school teacher.

“I just knew that a small campus was a good place for me to start out,” she said the other morning from the financial aid office on campus where she works part time. “I never felt lost at college, I love all my teachers, and we don’t have more than 25 students in a class.”

Marlene Olson, director of communications for Middlesex Community College, one of the state’s 12 community colleges, noted that students transfer from Connecticut’s community colleges to the likes of Boston College, Brown, Clark, Connecticut College, Georgetown, Mount Holyoke, Northeastern, Quinnipiac, and UConn.

Curious, I picked up the phone and called Skidmore College to see how this select school viewed community college graduates. “We seek top students from community colleges,” said Mary Lou Bates, Skidmore’s director of admissions.

“Many are appealing candidates. We look for about 40 transfer students for the fall semester, and we’re seeing an increase in the number of applicants from community colleges,” she said.

Bates has a member of her staff reach out to community colleges “to let them know we have openings and would like their top students to apply. We find that students who are in community colleges bring a diversity that is appealing to us. We’re also able to target certain academic disciplines where we know we have openings in upper level courses.”

Bates says community college students tend to be highly mature, motivated individuals who didn’t start at a select school for financial, social or academic reasons, and “they turn it around.”

Last fall, tuition and fees at Skidmore were $29,635. Two years at Skidmore is just under $60,000. Two years at one of Connecticut’s community colleges is just under $5,000. Admissions at a community college is open, while 50 percent of the students at Skidmore scored between 580-670 on the verbal and 580-660 on the math SATs. That means 25 percent of Skidmore students scored above 670 on the verbal, and 660 on the math.

“A lot of people are discovering the advantages of going to a community college,” Olson said. “Small classes, individual attention, better transition to a four year college, and we’re set up to help students who might be under prepared to start school.”

Besides bringing students up to speed academically with support classes in math, reading and writing, community colleges target where the local economy needs workers and establishes two-year programs so students can graduate with good paying jobs.

Olson noted that Tunxis in Farmington has a two-year dental hygienist program. Dental hygienists clean teeth, take x-rays, make recommendations to a dentist, and the average pay in the state for that position, according to the Connecticut Department of Labor, was $57,580 in 2001. The same web site projects that there is going to be a need for 3,384 positions by 2008, Olson said.

Olson noted that the average pay for a radiation therapist is $47,370 in the state. This too is a two-year program at a community college; and remember the cost of tuition for the next two years is projected to remain under $5,000. I call that money well spent.

“Four year schools are slow to adjust to societal or industrial needs. We’re here to get students ready for today’s fast growing fields. We take a look at what it is that our community is telling us they need now.

“We may put a non-credit program together that would get them trained for immediate employment – we have a certificate program for certified nurse’s aides to start filling in immediately in that field in 16 weeks,” Olson said.

Olson says that entry-level nurse’s aides “can almost write their own ticket – part time, days, evenings or weekends.”

It’s not terribly well known, but in 2001 Connecticut lawmakers passed a bill to encourage the state university program to become more accessible to Connecticut students. What came of this was a program that permits more students to attend UConn and for far less money.

There is a written agreement that states if students at Manchester, Three Rivers and Quinebaug Valley graduate with a 3.0 grade point average and an associate’s degree in the liberal arts or sciences, they will be automatically accepted to UConn’s schools of liberal arts.

U.S. News&World Report ranks UConn as the best public university in New England, and the 25th best public university in the nation. Applications have gone up 100 percent in the last decade, and 50 percent of the incoming freshmen score between 520-610 on the verbal and between 530-630 on the math SATs.

Mary Anne Cox, director of Communications for the Connecticut Community Colleges, said that program which guarantees access to UConn was a successful pilot program this past fall, and that the remaining nine community colleges are in the process of attempting to establish a similar program.

“This is part of our mission,” Cox said, “to provide more access to education, and part of that is keeping tuition low. It’s a wonderful benefit for our students.”

Currently there is an agreement with the 12 community colleges and the Connecticut State University system, which is made up of Southern, Eastern, Western and Central Connecticut State Universities. Community college students are guaranteed admittance to those schools if they graduate with a GPA of 2.0 or higher and have completed an associate’s degree program.

Olson wants students to know that not all the courses taken at a community college will transfer necessarily. She encourages students to make sure they stay in constant communication with the school they want to transfer to make sure the courses they’re taking will be transferable.

“A lot of people have overlooked us,” Olson said, “take another look and we’ll surprise you.”

For additional information, a good starting place is the homepage for the state’s community colleges – http://www.commnet.edu/.

Sam Rosensohn is the founder of College Planning Partnerships, which offers prep classes for the SAT and helps students to prepare for college and write college essays. He can be reached in Clinton at 860-664-9857 or at sam@satprepct.com