By Deborah Jeanne Sergent
Once referred to as “just community colleges,” the local two-year programs have earned their place among all other respected educational institutions.
Whether students attend an associate degree on its own or as a stepping stone to a bachelor’s degree, attending a community college can make a lot of sense for students.
“Our alumni report no transfer issues and they have been successful in finding jobs,” said Casey Crabill, president of Onondaga Community College.
The pejorative view of community colleges “is an old view held by people less informed than they might be. For now, many employers are more interested in skills than credentials. We hear a lot of employers are interested in the content of your degree.
Community colleges tend to offer a teacher to student ratio of less than 1:40 or less rather than 1:250 or 1:300 as in many four-year schools. This allows for greater student-teacher interaction and attention. Struggling students will receive more help and talented students more opportunities to excel.
Crabill said OCC instructors are well-qualified, fully accredited teachers, not graduate students.
Most community college students live locally, so they save money on room and board. Tuition fees are also lower, allowing more students to access a college education.
“We have a program that gives students access to books at about half the price,” Crabill said. “We want to help students afford the program they want to get the career they imagined.”
Generating greater access to a college education creates a student body made up of students who really want to be there and will work to improve their situation.
“We have alumni who started here who are now heart surgeons,” Crabill said. “It’s a route designed to get you started at a reasonable price.”
Students unsure of what they want to study can try a lower-cost, lower-risk degree at a community college. Most of the first four semesters are made up of basic general education or core electives that would transfer to other majors anyway.
Community colleges tend to be more invested in their communities with early high school entry programs, continuing education courses, and enrichment opportunities for all ages. Partnering with local employers helps community colleges develop programs that teach the skills they want for specific positions. This enhances employability in education.
“We can prepare students for great jobs at home,” Crabill said. “They start in ninth grade and when they graduate they have an associate degree and get hired by these local employers.”
Cayuga Community College also works with area employers who provide employment services.
“There is a growing understanding that community colleges provide career-focused learning opportunities and that our students are ready to join the workforce,” said Brian Durant, President. “These career paths can lead to a degree, credential, or micro credential, but our goal is to ensure students have the training and confidence they need to succeed after leaving Cayuga.
“Companies are key sources of information to ensure that these programs emphasize cutting-edge techniques and training to provide students with what they need to know as they enter the workforce.”
An example is the Advanced
Manufacturing Institute that Cayuga opened on the Fulton campus in the spring of 2022. Novelis, Huhtamaki, and the Oswego County Manufacturers Consortium offered feedback and support that helped design the program. This collaboration helped develop workers ready to take on roles in these organizations upon graduation.
Like community colleges, online education has also improved its public perception. In early 2020, colleges moved to online classes. Many schools, including Cayuga, have stepped up the format and improved the student experience so that students used to an in-person class feel like they could access online classes just as easily.
“Students adapted to these changes and succeeded with increasing frequency,” Durant said, “and as more people took courses online, there was a greater awareness that although the courses were presented differently, the content and opportunities were largely the same.”
In general, most people have turned to online resources for many aspects of life over the past couple of years, from shopping to entertainment to socializing. Education is another example.
“In our experience, companies have appreciated this fact and recognized that students who have taken courses during the pandemic have demonstrated an undeniable ability to adapt to new and unexpected challenges,” said Durant. “It’s a must-have trait that appeals to employers and should serve our students well for years to come.”