Enrollments at community colleges are at an all-time high spurred largely by the recession and the need to find more affordable alternatives to the increasing cost of a higher education.
Included among New Jersey parents who have made the community college choice are Thomas and Paulette Grace, of Livingston, who enrolled their son Jeff at County College of Morris (CCM). The Graces explain that affordability was a factor in their decision but not the only one. They also were looking for a place where their son could explore a variety of academic disciplines in a supportive environment.
“Affordability was absolutely important,” says Thomas, director of Community Standards and Compliance at New York University (NYU). “But it’s not just about the money; it’s about what you get for your money. He had other college options but we wanted a place that would optimize Jeff’s potential to succeed.”
As smaller institutions, community colleges can provide students with more individualized attention and opportunities to forge relationships, notes Paulette, a psychologist with the New York City Police Department. During his second week of class, Jeff introduced himself to the vice president of Student Development and Enrollment Management. “He just walked in and said ‘Hello.’ That’s exactly what we wanted for him, a place where he would feel comfortable.”
At first, Jeff says, he was a bit hesitant about enrolling at a community college rather than a four-year school. Now, he says, “I tell my friends that community college is a great starting point. The professors are approachable and the course selection is extensive.” What he also enjoys are the small class sizes. “Instead of sitting in a classroom with 100 or more students, I’m being taught by professors who can really help me learn,” he says.
In his position at NYU, Thomas says, “I work with students who find themselves in difficult situations and I have found that a lot of behavioral choices are about ‘fit.’ For some students, enrolling in a large university right out of high school can be just too overwhelming.”
Community colleges, he adds, are a great place for students who are not yet ready to be on their own to start their college education. “Research shows that finding the right fit is infinitely more important than getting your child into a top school. Why would you want to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on an education that is not right for your child?”
Both he and his wife hold doctorate degrees and would like to see Jeff enroll at a four-year school after he graduates from CCM. In the meantime, the community college experience, says Thomas, “is offering Jeff the opportunity to find himself and start his college education in an environment where he can succeed. For us, it was a good decision.”
As appeared in the Daily Record's Education Supplement, Oct. 10, 2010