Community College

Learn what a community college is and how it differs from a four-year college

Southwest Tennessee Community College
Southwest Tennessee Community College. Brad Montgomery / Flickr

Definition: The term "community" is at the heart of a community college's mission. These schools offer a level of accessibility--in terms of time, finances and geography--that cannot be found at liberal arts colleges and private universities.

A community college has many features that are distinct from universities and liberal arts colleges:

  • Cost - Community colleges are significantly less expensive per credit hour than public or private four-year schools. Tuition can be in the range of one-third that of a public university, and one-tenth that of a private university.
  • Selectivity - Community colleges are almost always open admissions. In other words, anyone who has a high school diploma will be admitted.
  • Commuter and Part-time Students - Community colleges specialize in serving live-at-home students and part-time students. They are ideal for students who want to further their educations while balancing work and family.
  • Associate's Degrees and Certificate Programs - Community colleges do not offer four-year baccalaureate degrees. They have a two-year curriculum that typically terminates with an associate's degree. Shorter programs may lead to specific professional certifications. Many students transfer from community colleges to four-year colleges.
  • The Downside - The service community colleges provide to higher education in the U.S. is huge, but students should recognize the limits of community colleges. Not all classes will transfer to all four-year colleges. Also, because of the large commuter population, community colleges often have fewer athletic opportunities and student organizations. Finally, be sure to understand the potential hidden costs of community college.

    Also Known As: junior college,technical college,city college