Community Colleges Attract Younger Students

By Chris Hassan
Posted October 01, 2013 11:00 AM

Younger students enrolling at community colleges.
Younger students enrolling at community colleges.

When people picture community college students, images of adults older than the typical undergraduate may come to mind. However, despite what some think, more than one type of student pursues an associate's degree at two-year institutions.

In fact, many of today's community college students are quite young, which should help stop the myth that these individuals have to be older from gaining any more traction.

Younger Students Enrolling in Community College

A 2012 report from the American Association of Community Colleges revealed just how young community college populations have become over the past few decades. The report, titled "Why Access Matters: The Community College Student Body," showed that between 1993 and 2009, the number of students under 18 years old who were enrolled in community colleges increased. During this time frame, the number of students between 18 and 24 was high in 1993, dropped in 1995 and fluctuated in the years that followed. By 2009, however, the percentage went above where it sat in 1993.

This data reveals that more than a few students are transitioning from high school to community colleges. This is in line with what James Orbesen, a teacher at two Chicago-area community colleges has observed, according to an article he wrote for The Atlantic.

"The reality of my classroom was far different from what I expected," Orbesen wrote. "All four of my first-year composition courses this fall semester were made up, almost entirely, of students directly from high school. In each class, only one or two were veterans or adults over the age of 24. Age and experience-wise, my students are traditional college students."

The Appeal of Community College

A greater interest in earning an associate's degree in a community college setting among younger students should not be too surprising. After all, students live in a time when the average annual college tuition for a public, four-year institution is $7,135, and the same figure for private, not-for-profit, four-year institution is $22,786, according to the U.S. Department of Education's College Affordability and Transparency System.

At the same time, attending a public, two-year institution means an average tuition of $2,905, while a private, not-for-profit, two-year institution has an average tuition of $12,959. As these costs are much lower, it's easy to see why many students would prefer to save money and begin their higher education career at a community college before completing their undergraduate studies at a four-year institution.

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