The Smart Choice in Education

Attending a community college makes sense for a wide range of reasons.

by Dr. Sheila Quirk-Bailey, Illinois Central College
ICC Students
Students at Illinois Central College model t-shirts of the four-year college to which they are transferring.

Some decisions in life are just smart. People, for the most part, strive to make smart choices, in both their personal and professional life. When it comes to your lifestyle, that may include a healthy diet, staying physically active, not smoking and brushing your teeth. These choices make sense because they benefit you in the long run and enhance your future. 

The same notion applies when it comes to education. One of the smartest choices students can make is to attend a community college before transferring to a four-year institution. Students can complete their gen ed classes, which are generally the same no matter which college or major is chosen, while saving a remarkable amount of money. This choice also makes sense—because it benefits students in the long run and enhances their future. Here are a few reasons why: 

Lower Tuition Rates
At a typical four-year university, cost per credit hour is anywhere from $400 to $600 or more for general education classes, meaning each class costs $1,200 to $1,800 or more. At the other end of the spectrum, community colleges typically charge $45 to $250 per credit hour. ICC’s average tuition of $150 per credit hour, for example, means each class would cost approximately $450. That’s a savings of up to $1,350 per class—not including financial aid or scholarships, which are generally available to increase the savings even more. 

Less Debt
The savings from low tuition rates “transfers” along with the students to their four-year school, as the amount of student loans needed is significantly reduced. This is vital considering the average graduate ends up with over $37,000 in student loan debt, according to a Forbes report. Of those graduates, approximately 40 percent will default on their student loan payments by 2023. That kind of debt can have a hindering, lasting effect on one’s future. 

In July 2019, Illinois Central College received a federal grant to construct a new job-training site to keep up with the regional workforce needs of Greater Peoria. The $3 million Economic Development Administration grant, coupled with $6 million in state and local matching funds, will allow ICC to move forward on the Workforce Sustainability Center, which would replace Dirksen Hall. The building could open by late 2020 or early 2021.

Student-Focused Faculty
Lower tuition rates do not mean a less-qualified faculty. On the contrary, community college faculty spend most of their time working with students, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as opposed to four-year faculty, who spend a great deal of time on research. This allows students more face-to-face instructor time, individual attention and support. In addition, community college faculty typically have a professional background in the subjects they’re teaching—including real-world insights and industry connections—while four-year faculty may have more of an academic background.  

With individual attention and support, along with real-world insights into their field of study, it’s no wonder students transferring to four-year institutions continue to perform as well as, or better than, those who began there. Dr. Keith Knepp, CEO and president of UnityPoint Health – Peoria, agrees. “Not only am I an alumnus… but our first three children attended Illinois Central College and went on to four-year institutions. Two lead successful careers and the third will complete his degree soon—all as proud products of a community college,” he explains. “Each one received the foundation of a quality education at an exceptional value, and was able to stay local. They could have gone anywhere, but our family’s choice was ICC.” 

Students need flexibility, which is why community colleges typically offer more options for online, evening and weekend classes than four-year institutions. According to the Community College Research Center, about 80 percent of community college students work, and 39 percent of that group work full-time. That’s why it’s important to meet students where they are and work around their schedules. ICC offers evening degree programs, for example, allowing students to work while completing their degree or certificate. Many students also have children, so flexible options enable them to juggle family, work and school. ICC also has an on-site daycare for children of students and faculty, giving students even more flexibility.

These are just a few reasons why—when it comes to education, ICC is a smart choice. For more information, visit PM