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For some students, high school graduation means a few months until moving into a four-year university – complete with dorms, large lecture-hall classes and a giant campus. For other students, college might still be the goal, but the thought of the jump from senior year to college is an intimidating one.

Enter community college, Laura Barnard, executive vice president and provost at Lakeland Community College in Kirtland, and Lisa Williams, president of Cuyahoga Community College’s eastern campus in Highland Hills, suggested. Whether as a way to get a college education on a smaller, more intimate scale, or to prepare for the switch from a two-year to a four-year institution, both professionals said community college can be many things for many students.

“What is so nice for our students, especially when they’re leaving high school and they’re not sure what they want to pursue in higher education, they can choose community college,” Williams said. “There are so many reasons why they might want to do that. (Community colleges) have lower tuition paired with a variety of degrees. While we have many technical degrees where students can come, study for two years, graduate with a degree in a field and make a sustainable living wage, there also associate degrees in science, arts and business. So, students can come here for their first two years and transfer out later.”

Williams said community colleges also boast smaller class sizes, allowing for more hands-on learning, as well as targeted assistance for students. Many community colleges also already offered online courses before the COVID-19 pandemic, so the switch might be a little easier for students, she said.

Though community college is less expensive, Barnard said that doesn’t mean students are paying for a

lower-quality education. While students are going to save thousands of dollars by starting at a community college, they’re getting comparable professors leading their courses.

“At a community college, specifically at Lakeland, all of our faculty have credentials, many of which have Ph.D.s in many areas,” she explained. “They are focused on teaching rather than research or writing articles. They come here because they want to teach and interact with students.”

Williams added, “They will get a well-rounded education that is set up to meet the same standards – whether they’re taking it at Tri-C or a four-year institution. We have to meet all of the same course objectives.”

Concerning the pandemic, Barnard said families can have peace of mind that community colleges don’t have dorms or large gatherings of students on campus already, so many of those guidelines can easily be put in place.

“You will go home every night to the safety of your own home, other than having people constantly around you on campus,” she said. “At Lakeland, we also have a large number of remote learning courses through both online or a designated web portal. What you find there is we’ve been doing online learning for decades. At four-year universities, this isn’t really what they specialize in. Why pay the premium price if you’re going to end up at the same end goal?”

At Tri-C, Williams said students have access to their transfer center where staff works with area four-year universities to set up pathways to make transferring easier. For example, students who are interested in transferring to Cleveland State University for a degree in business or marketing, those pathways already exist – and they can transfer from Tri-C to CSU with junior status.

“They leave right away, start as a junior and don’t have to repeat any courses or lose any credit,” she said.

For students at Lakeland, there are leadership opportunities to prepare students for the next step. Barnard added there is also free tutoring and student support, as well as an honors program for students looking for a more rigorous course load.

But at the end of the day, Williams said students should know community college is an option for continuing their education.

“Even if a student comes in and gets their associate’s degree, and if there might be a career path where they can start working, we always encourage them to continue with their degree, to get their bachelor’s and then even go onto the master’s,” she said. “We then know that we’re encouraging our students to be lifelong learners and the associate’s degree is not the end for them. It should only be the beginning of their educational journey.”

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