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February 15, 2011

Surviving Your Children’s Education

Nick Diaz

Now is a good time to give our local community colleges another look. No longer are they the equivalent of “13th grade,” or the sole life raft of marginal students.


Thanks to skyrocketing costs of private and public universities, many families are finding their college funds won't be enough. With low costs, small classes and easy-to-transfer credits, a community college may be the solution cash-crunched families seek.


"Price has always been a selling point for us," says Norma Kent, director of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges. "It's a very affordable way to go."


Let's look at some numbers. The average cost for a full-year of tuition and fees at our own Frederick Community college is approximately $3,700, compared to $8,400 at The University of Maryland College Park, and close to $30,000 at Hood College or Mount St. Mary‘s University.


Let's say a potential student lives in the Philadelphia area. By attending the Community College of Philadelphia for two years and then transferring to Temple University, this student could save more than $9,200 in tuition costs.


Thanks to an articulation agreement between the two schools, a transfer student with a 3.65 grade point average or higher will receive a $2,000 merit scholarship to Temple. A transfer student with a 3.0-to-3.64 GPA will receive a $1,000 scholarship.


An articulation agreement specifies which community college course credits will be accepted toward a bachelor's degree at the four-year college or university. It also outlines scholarship requirements and specifies what kind of grades a student must achieve to transfer to the four-year school as a junior.


Articulation agreements between two-year and four-year colleges are quite common. The Community College of Philadelphia has articulation agreements with neighboring four-year colleges, such as St. Joseph’s, Drexel, Villanova, and LaSalle.


"We can really guarantee that you'll enter as a junior and your credits will transfer," says Kimberly Iapalucci, director of public relations at the Community College of Philadelphia. "We call it a seamless transition."


Similar articulation has been taking place among Frederick Community College, Hood, and the Mount in recent years. It is a well-known fact that Hood College and Mount St. Mary’s University seek out and value students who have earned associates degrees from FCC and our sister community colleges in Maryland.


Students at four-year schools can nudge down education costs by heading home and taking summer classes at a local community college.


My own daughter, a graduate of my alma mater, the University of Dayton, remained in the Dayton area for several weeks one summer, while taking courses at Sinclair Community College. UD students, even those from outside the Dayton area, may take courses at Sinclair, thanks to an articulation agreement between the two institutions.


Every credit earned at a low-cost community college can save a family hundreds of dollars in tuition; by bunking at parents’ house, a student could knock down room-and-board charges substantially.


Attending a community college also makes a lot of sense for students with uncertain career goals. Why should a student and/or his family shell out thousands of dollars in university tuition, when such student may not have a clear idea of what future careers he may want to pursue?


"The benefit of a community college is its low cost, and you can afford to play around a bit. You can explore," says Betty Davis, assistant dean of financial aid at Community College of Allegheny in Pennsylvania. "It's a good place to start."


Why not start in high school? A student does not have to be a college student to cash in on community college classes. Many community colleges, including Frederick Community College, offer courses to high school juniors and seniors. With dual-enrollment classes, teens earn high school and college credits at the same time.


Since many seniors at Frederick County Public Schools are finished with their math course requirements, due largely to the “semesterized” nature of our high schools’ block scheduling, it makes sense for them to take that extra math class.


Classes in business, the sciences, and the arts are also popular among our high school students who take advantage of the expertise of college professors in their own fields. The second “C” in FCC stands for “College,” after all. It is a college; it is higher education; it is challenging; and it is substantive.


Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville, FL, has been offering a dual-enrollment program to area high school students since 1974. Eligible students attend classes at the college for free. Course textbooks are loaned to the students free of charge.


"This is like a two-year scholarship," says Linda Lanza-Kaduce, director of the high school dual-enrollment program at SFCC. "It's a big deal – especially in these hard times with people not feeling as rich as they did a few years ago."


Lots of people, who feel fed up with the working world, head to community colleges to regroup and retrain. Laid-off workers and those fearing layoffs are flocking to community colleges in search of new skills and training. Many do like what they find.


In my role as chairman of the Board of Trustees at Frederick Community College, I’m privileged to see 20-year-olds working side by side with 50-year-olds to achieve their educational and career goals. I’m so impressed, and deeply touched, by the stories of people, right here in Frederick County, who take advantage of what FCC offers to improve the condition of their lives.


Frederick Community College – a local treasure.


Community Colleges – America’s treasure.


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