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Paul Freedman

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Hacking Education the 1960s Way

Posted: 09/08/11 02:05 PM ET

In response to the spiraling cost of college tuition, there's been a lot written recently about new and innovative ways to 'hack' education. These articles normally discuss advanced technologies that promise to lower the cost of higher education and increase access to a college degree. Some of these may be perfectly valid options. And ya, they might even be kind of cool. (Especially when you throw the word "hack" in there.)

Unfortunately, what tends to be ignored in these conversations is that there's already a proven method to lower the cost of a college degree that's been around for over 50 years -- starting at a community, junior, or transfer college and then transferring to a four-year university.

Oh ya. That.

For students who aren't academically prepared for college, this can be a tough road to take. One of the reasons community colleges are able to provide an education at a considerably lower cost than their four-year counterparts is because they invest less in tutoring and out-of-classroom support. But for students who are ready for college and looking for a way to lower the cost of earning a four-year degree, transferring is still the most reliable and effective path out there.

Unfortunately, many students don't take advantage of this path because of the negative and undeserved stigmas associated with community college transfer. Now that paying for four years of college tuition is getting closer to becoming unaffordable for the vast majority of students, it's time to put this stigma to rest.

Lets address some of these stigmas shall we?

It's harder to get into a four-year college.

Completely untrue. Four-year schools need upper-division students and depend on community college transfers to maintain their enrollment levels. In fact, some schools like those in the University of California system give precedence to transfer students over first-year high school students.

It looks bad when you try and get a job.

Wrong again. For the most part graduate schools and employers look at where you finished your degree, not where you started.

Community colleges aren't "real" colleges.

Once again, not true. Community colleges may have been called junior colleges at one time but the education they offer is just as robust and rigorous as the majority of state schools. With few exceptions, the general education curriculum you receive at the beginning of a four-year program is going to match that of your two-year community college program -- only you don't get an associate degree.

On top of that, general education isn't usually the main focus of a four-year institution, so students may find themselves taking lower-division courses taught by teaching assistants or professors who would rather be somewhere else. Taking these courses from a community college faculty, whose primary or only focus is general education, may result in a better experience.

According to data from a recent report from the College Board, tuition and fees at community colleges average only 36.2 percent of the average cost at a four-year public college. Think about that. Only 36.2 percent. When you consider that number, it's nothing to be ashamed of if you want to start at a community college and save yourself and your family some cash. In fact, these days it's almost irresponsible not to consider transferring. By starting at a community college and saving on your overall college costs, you can afford to transfer into a better four-year school and graduate with a top degree. In the end, you'll receive a better education at a better price.

Those providing higher education opportunities should never stop innovating -- coming up with new ways to expand access is good for everyone. (By all means, hack away.) But maybe it's time we put a little old back in the new school and remember that we already have an answer to the rising cost of college -- transfer. It's already available. It's affordable. And it works.

I don't know about you, but it sounds pretty smart to me.

 

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