Why community colleges are perfect for many Maryland students

For those who haven't considered community college, it's time to take a look at the myriad of programs available to Maryland high school students and recent graduates at a bargain price.

Community College HCC WHoward Community CollegeSarah Ahmed, for example, planned to eventually pursue law after graduating from Reservoir High School in Fulton, but she had concerns about committing to a four-year school. While the 19-year-old Laurel resident wanted to start college somewhere smaller than a big state university, she didn't want to pay the price for a private institution.

“I wanted to do something new and out of the ordinary,” Ahmed says. “I wanted a smaller community before going on to something huge.”

So she applied and was accepted to the James W. Rouse Scholars Program at Howard Community College — a selective two-year honors and leadership program for high school graduates.

The program — which offers honors-level classes, opportunities to travel abroad and guaranteed credit transfer — is just one of many ways local community colleges are luring high school students and recent graduates to their campuses. Some programs have students earning college credits before they cross the stage for high school commencement, while others prepare them for careers in fields like cybersecurity and health sciences.

And all of this comes at a fraction of the cost of four-year schools.

“Community colleges are now becoming more of a first choice,” says Cindy Peterka, HCC’s vice president of student services.

High school programs

Students have several options when it comes to earning college credits before high school graduation: dual enrollment and specialized programs.

Dual enrollment
Also known as “early access,” dual enrollment programs offer community college classes to high school students for significantly less cost than traditional community college classes. Some are discounted as much as 50 percent.

Dual enrollment programs typically work best for high-achieving high school juniors and seniors who have already completed most of the required courses for high school graduation, says Brian Hammond, director of admissions at the College of Southern Maryland, a community college with campuses in Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties.

“The appeal is to get a jump-start on college,” Hammond says.

Qualifications for dual enrollment vary by community college. At CSM, students must exceed specific SAT or ACT scores or score well on a placement test. Once accepted, they can take college-level courses in subjects like honors English and pre-calculus and trigonometry. Classes are held on the college campuses, as well as in local high schools using distance-learning labs.

“Many (high school students) complete a full year of college at a cost of less than $3,000,” says CSM president Bradley Gottfried. “Students not only realize a financial benefit, they also gain experience in taking a college-level class.”

In addition, students who successfully complete dual enrollment classes are guaranteed college credit — unlike Advanced Placement courses in high school, Hammond says.

“With AP, it’s all dependent on the AP test (score) at the end of class,” he says. “You could have a bad day, a bad test. Our classes are dependent on all 14 weeks.”

The community college credits are transferable to both in- and out-of-state four-year colleges, Hammond says.

Specialized programs
ICommunity college NC Kristen WKristen Towers, second to the end on right, waits with other North County High School students to recieve her certificate from Anne Arundel Community College.n addition to early access, high school students can earn college credit through special community college programs.

HCC recently partnered with Howard County Public Schools on a cybersecurity program where high school juniors and seniors take cybersecurity and networking classes at a discounted tuition rate. The students end up graduating from high school with 30 college credits applicable towards an associate’s degree at HCC. They also can earn a network engineer technician certificate or computer knowledge and security certificate, which can aid on the path to becoming a network administrator, software tester or security analyst.

HCC also partners with county public schools on an Early College STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program at Oakland Mills High School in Columbia. Here, students who want to pursue a STEM-related field, or even explore the field to learn more, can also earn 30 college credits.

“You get a full year of college credit under your belt,” Peterka says. “And it’s encouraging students at a young age to think about college.”

Anne Arundel Community College (AACC) partners with Anne Arundel County Public Schools on “Signature” programs to connect classroom instruction with workforce relevant skills. At North County High School in Glen Burnie, AACC instructors teach classes in the International Transportation, Trade and Tourism program. Participating students earn 18 college credits and a “Transportation, Logistics and Cargo Security” certificate. Ten North County students received the certificate in May.

“They’re actually crossing the stage at Anne Arundel Community College before they cross the stage for their high school graduation,” says Chelsea Singer, a North County High school counselor.

Many students go on to continue their education at AACC. Kristen Towers, a North County High School graduate, is one of them. She thought she wanted to pursue early childhood education in college, but after enrolling in the International Transportation, Trade and Tourism program and gaining her certificate, she is now pursuing her associate’s degree at AACC and eventually hopes to work as a logistics manager at the Port of Baltimore.

“The classes absolutely changed what I want to do with my life,” she says. “My stepfather and many of my family members worked at the Port as longshoremen. But it’s an older crowd and male-dominated. I had never really thought that it was something I could do. Now I see that there’s a whole other side to it.”

Associate and technical degrees

High school students looking for colleges are often drawn to the associate’s degree programs community colleges offer in high-demand fields. Howard Community College recently increased the number of health sciences and cybersecurity classes offered, based on industry demand and student interest, Peterka says.

The college started a dental hygiene Associate of Applied Science degree program in 2015 and it already has a waiting list. The first students in the program graducated last spring with a certificate that allows them to immediately get jobs in the field.

In 2017 the college will open a new four-story, 145,300-square-foot science, engineering and technology building to house the expanded cybersecurity classes. According to the Maryland Association of Community Colleges, there is huge demand for trained cybersecurity personnel in Maryland. More than 100,000 positions remain unfilled due to lack of qualified applicants, the MACC website states. Median starting salary for the field is $86,000.

Anne Arundel County also offers cybersecurity education. After receiving associate’s degrees, AACC cybersecurity graduates have gone to work for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the FBI and the U.S. Naval Academy.

Several community colleges also have partnerships with four-year schools that guarantee admission or priority enrollment. For example, CSM students who complete an associate’s degree, earn a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or better, and plan to major in construction management or real estate are guaranteed transfer to Virginia Tech.

“The main benefit is the cost,” Hammond says. “They save thousands of dollars by going to College of Southern Maryland first.”

Honors programs

Community College HCC W SarahAhmed Delegate Vanessa AtterbearySarah Ahmed, left, was able to intern with Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary, right, as part of the Rouse Scholars program at HCC.Honors-level programs like the Presidential Scholars program at CSM and the Rouse Scholars program at HCC prepare students for transfer to four-year schools while providing rigorous curriculums and even opportunities to travel abroad.

“Students want to feel a part of something important,” says Shelby Potts, CSM’s assistant director of admissions/recruitment. “This gives our high achieving students in Calvert County a special program all to their own. They get to have special luncheons with community leaders, sharing information, wisdom (and) also discussions that challenge their critical thinking skills.”

The honors programs also come with scholarships. HCC offers Rouse Scholars merit-based and study-abroad scholarships starting at $500. CSM offers Presidential Scholars 25 percent off tuition as a scholarship the first year and 50 percent off the second.

In less than a year and a half, the Rouse Scholars program has enabled Ahmed to develop close relationships with professors, study abroad in Ireland and intern with a state delegate. She has also achieved a 4.0 grade point average and will be soon be inducted into Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. And she is applying to four-year schools like Cornell University and Georgetown University to finish her undergraduate coursework and earn a bachelor’s degree. She expects to receive her associate’s degree from HCC this spring.

“The opportunities I got here, I don’t think I would have gotten at a four-year,” Ahmed says. "There's nothing wrong with deviating and doing your own thing, finding your own path. That's what I did."

Why go to community college?

Here are some reasons to choose a community college in high school or after high school graduation.

  • Dual enrollment programs offer discounted tuition for high school students.
  • Studies have found that high school students who completed college courses through dual enrollment were significantly more likely to attend college, stay in college, and complete an associate’s degree or higher within six years than those who didn’t.
  • The average cost of tuition and fees at a two-year school is $3,131, just over one-third of the cost for a year at a four-year public institution, according to the College Board.
  • Community colleges provide demand-driven education and training, according to the Maryland Association of Community Colleges. When local businesses need skilled workers, community colleges create training programs to supply that demand.
  • From 2011-2012, 72 percent of community college students who applied for financial aid received it, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.

By Allison Eatough