By STEPHANIE COOK
Everyone has different criteria for where they want to pursue higher education. Some individuals want to get out of their hometown, while some want to pursue special majors only offered at select institutions. Some people go to college for the athletics, some go for the experience and some just go to get their degree, but there’s a growing population of students who commute to and from community colleges every day.
In-state tuition at the University of Mary Washington is currently at $5,945 a semester, while in-state tuition at Germanna Community College, just down the road, averages from $1,872 to $2,808, depending on how many credits you take. Based on tuition alone, the price of one semester at UMW could equate to one full year at Germanna. Looking at these numbers, it doesn’t seem like much of a surprise that community colleges are growing in popularity across the nation, but it led me to think about why I choose to attend a four-year institution versus a community college.
Now that I’ve attended a four-year university and visited several community college campuses throughout my years here, I can say the feel of each setting is unique. Community college campuses tend to feel like a continuation of high school to me. Very rarely do community colleges offer dorms, so everyone is usually off campus by nightfall. I also noticed that there weren’t many events held by the community colleges, whereas a quick walk down UMW’s campus walk gives insight to events happening all over campus every day. While UMW is home to commuters, the commuters at UMW differ greatly from those at community colleges in the sense that they are still part of the “campus community.” Classes at community colleges may have large groups of people that get along, but the larger “campus community” doesn’t seem to exist at any of the community colleges I’ve visited.
Additionally, the academics of each must be taken into account. Most community colleges, including Germanna and my hometown community college only offer associate’s degrees, certifications and career studies certifications. Keeping in mind that in the growing job industry, many employers are looking for individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher, I decided to attend a four-year university. At UMW, students all push to graduate with bachelor’s degrees, and then may choose to attend graduate school here or pursue their master’s here. By staying at UMW, students are able to continue their sense of campus community in a place they are already familiar with. Students who graduate from community college with associate’s degrees are forced to transfer elsewhere should they choose to further their education, which can cause a rift in their education by switching campus climates so quickly.
Overall, the decision to attend a four-year university seems worth it to me, because I want to graduate with a bachelor’s degree from one institution, without the discomfort of shifting education styles in the middle of my studies. Attending a four-year university allows for a feeling of community that is hard to find on community college campuses, and arguably makes it easier for one to jump into their chosen career path or pursue even higher education.