Episode Title: What is a Community College? “A Smarter Option”, says Dr Miloni Gandhi of Foothill College, California.
Episode summary introduction: This podcast is to serve as a primer on Community Colleges in the US.
Dr Miloni Gandhi, Adjunct Faculty at Foothill College in California tells us why US and International students should seriously consider applying to them.
In particular, we discuss the following with her:
Topics discussed in this episode:
Our Guest: Our Guest: Miloni Gandhi Adjunct Faculty at Foothill College, California, is a graduate of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) with Bachelor’s degree in International Development Studies and Geography. Miloni then graduated with a MA and PhD in Social Sciences and Comparative Education from UCLA. Miloni can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Memorable Quote: “And you'll find that the Community College Faculty is on par with a lot of the faculty at four year colleges. We have faculty who go on Fulbright grants for teaching, we have faculty who do incredible research”.
Episode Transcript: Please visit Episode’s Transcript.
Transcript of the episode’s audio.
<Start Snippet> Miloni Gandhi 0:14
In fact now like we are getting so much more press for community colleges in the US yes with Dr. Joe Biden being a faculty member at a community college, Community College as well. And I hope globally that people recognize that Community College is a really worthwhile endeavors.
Community Colleges in the US trace their origins to before 1850. Starting initially as Junior College, they picked up steam with the GI Bill after World War II, and kicked into high gear in 1960’s with over 400 Community Colleges around the country.
Today, there are over 900 CCs around the country.
Dr Miloni Gandhi, Adjunct Faculty at Foothill College in California, believes that Community Colleges won’t be a secret for much longer.
Miloni joins us today to give us a Primer on Community Colleges in the US, Why you - as in, US and International Students, should seriously consider applying to them. Then Miloni discusses how to pick CCs to apply to, and walks us through the application process.
So, without further ado, here’s Dr Miloni Gandhi!
Venkat Raman 1:45
Hey, Miloni, how are you?
Good, how are you?
Venkat Raman 1:48
I'm doing well, I'm doing well. So welcome back to the podcast, College Matters. Alma Matters. This time as an expert in the area of admissions, counseling, and all that good stuff. So thank you for making the time.
Thank you for having me back.
Venkat Raman 2:10
Absolutely, absolutely. So I think the topic that we want to cover today is about community colleges, and more to offer like a primer to our audience and sort of tell them what it offers, why it's there, and how one can go about taking advantage of the community community college system.
So maybe we can kick it off by just defining or describing What are Community Colleges, and How do they fit into the college ecosystem here in the US?
Sure, so Community College is a college that generally offers two year degrees certificates, associate's degrees for transfer if you are planning on transferring to a four year afterwards. And they're widely distributed across the United States, because community colleges were meant to provide access to a college education for all populations.
So in the olden days, when community colleges started, the intent was that people from the community would go to the community college, if they were possibly too far away from a four year institution or wanted to further their skills in a way that was easily accessible to them.
So now that's blossomed into a robust network of several 100 of colleges all over the United States. And actually, even globally, the Community College movement is kind of becoming something of a rather something to note, because there are many other countries who are also looking at this model to provide more opportunity for folks to find the education that they're looking for.
Venkat Raman 4:08
So what, what kind of things do community colleges offer? I mean, is there a scope? I mean, I guess what is the broad scope of the education that they offer?
So community colleges are really cool in that they offer just about everything you could possibly be interested in, whether it is simply taking a college level course for recreational purposes, such as physical education or ceramics, or to start a new degree in a career that you are looking at transitioning into.
If you wanted to take the first couple years of your four year degree, somewhere where you were already based, possibly, you could start at a community college. And then transferred to a four year.
So from a perspective of subject matter, it really is a wide breadth of subjects that one could choose to learn about. Every community college just like Four years, also have specialties in what they offer. So you'll find that certain community colleges might have a better program in business or another might have a better program in arts or apprenticeships and trades.
And so that's the other unique piece about community colleges that four year institutions generally don't have is there is also a focus on trades and apprenticeships. And that is a path to get you directly placed in a job at the end of your time with that program at a community college. So a lot of trades include things like pipes, and now things even like AWS, as cloud computing is even considered something that could be in that field, the new white collar trades, as they often call them, as the world is evolving. So are the types of subjects that fall into these different categories.
Venkat Raman 6:24
So basically, if I can recap that our students who are coming in into community colleges with either the idea of doing a certificate program or with the intention of transferring over to a four year program, is there anything else are there. And then of course, there are the short term courses, like you mentioned, which could be something that might be for a vocation or for some specific need, right?
And also the people who are just lifelong learners and want to take advantage of amazing educational opportunities at their local community college. So we have a lot of adult learners who are just coming to keep their minds fresh. And that is a perfectly wonderful way to take advantage of the community college as well.
Venkat Raman 7:14
What's the level of what's the quality of the education at these community colleges? I mean, is there somebody tracking them? How does it work? And how's, how good are they I guess vis-a-vis other colleges.
So I guess that kind of ties back to what I just started speaking about, where you have to do a bit of research, right, because the number of community colleges in the United States is so vast, and each one has a particular focus. And so just because a community college might be ranked lower on the community college rankings, in general doesn't mean just like a four year that they might not be like the highest rank in a particular sub category.
So just like four years, community colleges also have ranking US News and World Report ranks all the community colleges as well. And then there's other organizations that will do sub classification studies on particular programs that might be of interest. So in that sense, it's very similar to any other institution in terms of how you'd find out what is good and what is bad.
Also, of course, talking to people who are there, and reaching out to their admissions offices, and you know, getting that first hand information because, again, like I say, about four years, I will also say about two years, a lot of it is about where you want to be like physically and the kind of space Do you want to be at every college is different architecturally, geographically, the vibe at each college is also different. So all things to take into consideration as you would for any educational institute.
Venkat Raman 9:12
What kind of folks teach at these community colleges?
I would say having been in the community college system for the last five years now, folks who really have a focus on teaching are the one to self select to via to community college. community colleges are really focused on student success. And it's not like you can just give up your teaching to do research as you could at certain other institutions. So everyone who's coming in and self selecting to work in a community college, knows that they have this focus on equity and diversity and making sure that everybody is able to reach their goals, to get A degree or a certificate, and you do have to be willing to put in a lot of teaching time. And so I think there's that which is super interesting to think about that someone who's willing to teach at a community college already has a focus on student success. And the amount of care that the faculty at many community colleges offer is unparalleled. And you'll find that the community college faculty is on par with a lot of the faculty, four year colleges, we have faculty who go on Fulbright grants for teaching, we have faculty who do incredible research and are focused in magazines like National Geographic. There's no and to the success stories of our faculties creativity, we also get grants from large organizations, just like other for years do.
Venkat Raman 11:04
So maybe this is a good moment in the podcast to talk about your own experience with Community College, what what attracted you and what do you find there? What are what are some things people may not realize?
So I was attracted to the community college in particular, because I came from a perspective of international students. And their kind of global mobility apart patterns for education. I was really curious to see like, what is the difference in the kind of student? Or why don't they look at community colleges, and that's how I kind of came into this world. And through that initial segway, I became a faculty member at a community college as well. And it's just been an interesting learning process for me, but also to see the students and their perspective.
Now that we know what a community college is, why should a student domestic or international, consider Community College?
So globally, I found that community colleges were not as highly recognized or repaired. But yet, it is an excellent opportunity for folks to be able to try a couple of different geographic locations during their possible four years of study in the US, for example, and really kind of ease into that American academic culture, if they're not used to doing that, which a lot of students coming from countries that have very particular learning styles that are incompatible with ours, they need a little bit of time to get used to the expectations of American college professors. And so I found that students who are able to take advantage of the community colleges from that sense are also benefiting a great deal that they get to kind of ease into the American educational experience.
Because community colleges are meant to give educational access to all there are very low barriers in terms of entry into a community college. So for an American students, pretty much any student can attend community college. Yes, there are fees that you have to pay and things like that, that sometimes might still be a little bit of a challenge. But there's nothing like the SAT or the ACT or entry exams or, you know, top 5% of your class can only get in, none of that is there. So it's a lot more accessible in that sense.
Venkat Raman 14:04
Now, I guess there's another component here, right? I mean, if a student is interested in, quote, unquote, boosting their high school grades, right, I mean, if they have not, they think they can perform better and they use the two years at a community college to do well to show that they can do better, get better, a good GPA, good grades, then they can transfer to a school that they may not have directly been able to get to after their high school grades. Is that is that something to consider?
That's also something one can consider. Definitely the benefit of going to a community college for two years before transferring, is that the transfer admissions officers at the four year tend to look more heavily upon your work at the community. And your work at the high school is not as important. But you have to also make sure that you do succeed during those two years, right? So you can't, you can't think that community college is just an automatic a, you do have to put in a lot of work, right, the faculty are really pushing you to be your best self there. So it's not just an automatic, oh, I'll go to community college and I'll get into my transfer school you do have to still perform. Any students who find they maybe just lacked the maturity necessary during high school to focus on academics will find themselves applying themselves more wholly during Community College and proving to the world that they are of a certain academic standard to then make it to the four year of their choice. So that is another reason students will come.
But also, I wanted to bring up the fact that many of the community colleges here in the US also have something called dual enrollment. And so many high school students who might feel that they have exhausted what their high school has to offer will sometimes concurrently enroll in junior college slash Community College whilst they're still technically in high school and earn college credit at the same time. And that's another way to kind of get ahead and experience what college is like still from the security of your regular high school life.
Venkat Raman 16:44
Okay, so Miloni, I have a question on behalf of the international students now. students that come to community college and earn a degree, would they still qualify for the OPT that a four year degree provides?
Yes, you do. As long as you're getting an associate's degree, you are able to get your PT after your associate's degree. And in fact, if you later transfer and get a bachelor's degree, you'll also be able to get OPT after your bachelor's degree again.
Venkat Raman 17:20
Venkat Raman 17:24
In the case of community college, as international students, or just about any student is considering Community College, how should they approach this whole idea of including community colleges in the, in their list of colleges to explore? Is this an afterthought? Or is this something that should be front and center?
I think it should definitely be front and center. And in fact, I would encourage students to think of community college as a foundation for their educational experience in the US.
Let's say an international student, or just about any student is considering a four year college study, but is exploring Community College for the first two years and then sort of hopefully transferring. So what, what is a? I mean, what kind of things should go into that kind of consideration? And how would the Community College prepare that student for their next phase, which is to complete out there for your program?
So that is a great question. And a really useful one to discuss, I think it's probably a little bit daunting for people to consider community colleges, if for nothing else, because there's so many community colleges. But if you're sitting on the other side of the world, you might not know where to begin or how to pick.
So I would suggest narrowing it down by geography in terms of where you want to be both for the two years of your community college experience, but also in consideration to where you want to be if you're planning on transferring, because many times community colleges that are located most closely to the colleges you're interested in transferring to, or at least within the same state will have transfer agreements with those four years. And because the four years know that you can't get a bachelor's degree at a community college, they kind of are trying to help you get into the four year afterwards as well as reach that goal. And there's a certain allocation of seats available for those who transfer.
So if I take a step back in order to get into the Community College, if you are a foreign student, you will have to provide some proof of English proficiency. But after that, there are a few other requirements that are federally mandated in terms of providing some sort of financial guarantee that you can cover the cost of both tuition and living in the area that you choose to go to school in. But after that, each school might have a couple other requirements. But by and large, those are the Generic Requirements that all community colleges will have. And there'll be possibly a few other school specific things. But really, it's a lot less to think about, then applying to a four year that has many of the other entry requirements, there is still an application process, you do have to submit an application for every community college that you are planning on attending. But it's a fairly straightforward application.
So after you do that, and you pick the school you want to go to based on location, I would say the next phase would be like in that geographic area, you should really look and see what kinds of majors are offered, what kinds of courses of study, what sorts of extracurricular activities and student support groups, for example, is there an Honors Program, is the Transfer Center very active?
Do Students find a sense of community, because you're going to want to pick a place where you will find other students who have similar goals to yourself, and will kind of lift you all up together in that transfer experience. And that's really important to make sure you're able to find like minded peers who are going to go down the same path as you to support each other along the way. And every college has different iterations of student support groups. But the main ones to look out for if you are interested in transferring tend to be places who have honors, programs, places that have vibrant international offices to do special things for the international students, to help them kind of adjust to being on an American college campus.
And the transfer rates, like the rate of success of students who have transferred from the community college you're looking at, to possibly have a four year that you're looking at. And most of these statistics are fairly easily found, if not on the Community College's website, by Googling, because state systems will usually kind of aggregate all the data regarding this and make it publicly accessible, because it's bragging rights for all the schools that, you know, so many of our students have been able to transfer to Xyz institution. And same for the four year schools, they like to publicize their rates of Transfer Success as well.
Venkat Raman 23:16
If I am sitting on the other side, and I'm looking at this pathway to a four year program through a community college. You know, one fear I would always have is what if I don't make it to that transfer? So what are the general rates? Are they reasonable? You know, I by that, I mean, is that the 60-70% range? Or is it the 20% range? How many people can transfer successfully?
You know, I think that is going to depend on each college. And I don't have a statistic to throw at you at this moment. And I don't want to say an incorrect statistic. But certainly there are some colleges with much higher transfer rates than other colleges in the two year world. But just because institution doesn't have a high transfer rate, that doesn't necessarily mean that the school isn't it good. They just may have other focuses because we're shifting now in the way we kind of look at degree completion at community colleges. And a lot of the degree completion now is also taking into account those who do certificate programs, right, not just transfer programs. So you could have someone who was very successful at the two year college with no intention to transfer anywhere, but that is still a reflection that the education is very good at that school.
Venkat Raman 24:46
The second part of my question would be, what if I don't successfully transfer, then you're saying that...
Venkat Raman 24:54
Certificate? You can try again? Ok.
You can definitely like get a certificate or another degree. In the meantime, while you wait to transfer again The following year, unfortunately, most four year institutions still only operate on a once a year transfer admission cycle, there are a few who will take students during multiple points during the year, but kind of most speaking broadly, most schools still admit transfers once a year. So you do have a once a year application deadline for your transfer application. But if you were unable to get into the school that you are focused on initially, and you decide that, you just want to try again, for that same school and you don't like any of your other options, you can easily take another certificate, or a couple of stackable certificates or a degree that takes less time to complete, and wait another year and then try again.
Venkat Raman 25:55
And from an international student point of view, who is, you know, hoping to get into a four year program. The benefits are the advantages are really a huge monetary advantages. But second, you're saying there's a whole opportunity to adjust right? To the American system? Is there anything else,
I think those are my top two. And on the note of finances, you're gonna want to really look at your cost of living as well. Because uniformly across the board, if you compare the tuition rate at a community college to the tuition rate at a four year, you're going to find it is much more affordable. However, if you're picking a community college in an area where the cost of living is really high, you could still end up paying the same total amount of tuition plus costs of living, that would equal a four year tuition and cost of living at a school in a place where the cost of living is much lower. So if I were to compare living costs in San Francisco, Silicon Valley, New York, Los Angeles versus living costs in the Midwest, your low tuition in California Community Colleges plus cost of living, which is high, compared to you know, a Midwestern school, a four year school, often times they end up being the same and dollar price.
Okay, so let's switch gears a little bit. So you touched upon this briefly earlier, about how to apply. Is there... How does a student, maybe an international student or local, go about applying to a community college?
So generally speaking, most schools will do two separate applications. There is a application if you are a US citizen, or permanent resident. And then there is an application if you're an international student.
For the American students and permanent residents, most schools now are all web based and you do your application online. And that will generally return it back to you within a week or less, even sometimes, with your student ID and instructions on how to like go about registering in classes in particular, very straightforward and fairly quick turnaround, you don't have that waiting period that you do with four years where you're waiting six months to find out whether or not you are admitted, it's pretty much on the spot in comparison.
If you're an international student, however, you do have to make sure you make certain deadlines that the international offices will put out. So that they can review your application, make sure you're proficient in English and meet all the federal guidelines for being a student, they will then revert back to you and let you know that you've passed their application process. And now it's time for you to try to go and secure your visa so that you can actually make it to the campus by the time they have international student orientation.
So community colleges will take international students every quarter or semester that they are operating under. And that's a difference from four years where again, you're only admitted once a year. So if you for some reason, we're not able to get into the admission cycle for a four year. You can also know that the admission cycle as an international student at a two year is often quarter by quarter or semester by semester. So there's a little more flexibility there as well.
It's still a much more simpler application, I feel from the student perspective than it is to apply to a four year there generally aren't essay questions and things like that. It's more just a collection of demographic data.
Venkat Raman 30:16
Now, you know, 4-year applications nowadays has the common app and stuff like that, where you can apply to, you know, hundreds of colleges in, from one site. Is there such a thing with community college? Or do you have to go around applying to each one individually?
That's gonna vary state by state. So some states do have a uniform application system for, for example, the State of Hawaii, they have all of their higher educational institutions on one application, whether you're a community college or whether you're a four year research institution, it's just one application. But other states, for example, here in California, if you want to apply to community college, you have to apply to the community college individually. But you know, you could apply to as many of the University of California schools as you wanted to on one university of california application, so that you're gonna feel a little bit of research on depending on the states that you're looking at.
Venkat Raman 31:16
Okay, that sounds straightforward enough.
Venkat Raman 31:23
What kind of advice would you have for students who come to the community college? What are things they, I guess, are to watch out for things that you think would help them be more successful? Is there anything that any gotchas I guess is my question?
So I think I'm going to answer it from the perspective of whether you're a local student, or whether you are an international student. Sure. Okay. So if you're a local student, your life is generally already set up, you already have housing, and you're already kind of nearby. Or if you're already in the States, and you're coming from another state, you kind of know the ins and outs already of how you would look for an apartment and all of that.
Oh, that's one thing that often throws the international students in that community colleges don't always have dorms or don't always have their own housing. So an international student will have to find where they're going to live on their own. And that can sometimes be a bit frustrating. But most of the International Student offices will offer some sort of assistance, so that at least your first few months could be squared away easily, we'll see you then look for the apartment that you want after arrival and things like that.
Aside from that, I think what I was speaking about earlier, in terms of making sure you're involved in the school, that is really important for both the international students and the US students. Because the more involved you are in campus life, the more likely you are to succeed, you need to have that sense of community that's propelling you to be your best self. And at a four year, all of that community building is right in your face, whether it's the culture of the dorm that you're living in, or just kind of the plethora of activities that are happening day and night at the four year. But at the community college, you have to look a little harder at times, because many community colleges might be commuter campuses, where the students are just coming, you know, to take their class and leaving and things like that. So especially if you're a foreign student, you might not be ready. Or you might not have thought about the fact that the campus might actually like, Look empty. But then if you dig deeper, even though it looks empty on the outside, there's a lot going on on the inside. And different student groups are always organizing activities, faculty members are putting on talks, you just have to find the right information source. And I think that trips up a lot of students. So that information source could be a faculty member that you like, or it could be the Student Union, or it could be making sure you're on all of the student email lists for particular organizations and classes. You really have to just make sure you do a little bit of research and making sure you plug yourself in. So for example, most honors offices will have their own newsletter as well. And, you know, the International Student offices will have their own newsletters and ways that they're engaging their students. And now also, so many people are putting stuff on social media. So just make sure you're connected on social to the different entities at the campus you're at. So you know what's happening.
I think that's one of the biggest kind of visible differences when you're coming from far away. And let's say, you know, like I spoke about UCLA last time, the minute you get to UCLA, there are a million things thrown at you. But yeah, community colleges, sometimes those millions of things are not outwardly visible, just by the nature of like the commuter campus or something. But that doesn't mean they're not there. So my big tip is dig deep, and search for your extracurriculars, because they're there, you just might not find them in the same way you would in a four year.
Same with the academics. So all of the additional tutoring support and things like that is also available. But sometimes you might have to just search a little and same with the libraries, right? Like the libraries offer incredible resources, and the librarians are super helpful. But you have to kind of take an effort to like, go to their intro to the library sessions or chat with the librarians virtually. And my second biggest tip was like, make sure you do those things. Like don't just passively wait for things to fall into your lap as they might. A campus that is a residential vibrant campus, right? A lot of I would say most community colleges are not residential. So you have to really kind of look on your own to plug yourself into the vibrancy.
Venkat Raman 36:35
So I guess what you're basically saying is that if you come to a community college, you have to take the initiative to do both these things, to be involved in campus, as well as whatever on the academic side and as well.
Venkat Raman 36:55
Okay, so we are kind of getting ready to wind down here. Are there things, is there anything else a) that we haven't touched on or talked about Community College, anything you'd want to add?
I would like to touch upon the idea that a lot of people feel, at least globally that the Community College is a lesser option. And I would really encourage people to not think of it as a lesser option, but in fact, a smarter option.
So if you get into a community college, and you choose to go to a community college for the first two years, for whatever reasons led you to do that, like be proud of that decision and put it on your educational section of your LinkedIn and your other networking tools. Like there's no need to not claim the fact that you are a proud product of a community college.
And in fact, now like we are getting so much more press for community colleges in the US Yes, with Dr. Joe Biden being a faculty member at a community college, Community College as well. And I hope globally that people recognize that Community College is a really worthwhile endeavors.
Venkat Raman 38:22
You know, I probably take a step further and say that maybe as you, as you as an, as a student tries to draw up a list of colleges to add the Community College, you know, pathway as one of the options and explore and see if that is for you. And so that might be elevating it from a point of view of discussion as a valid option or choice, right. So
I second that 100%. Every, every college list should have at least a couple of community colleges on them.
Venkat Raman 39:05
Awesome. Okay, so anything else you want to add?
You know, I can't think of anything else other than community colleges are not going to be a secret for too much longer. So definitely take advantage of this wealth. It's still kind of, you know, globally relatively unknown. I think within the United States, we're already definitely having a moment and Community College. Attendance is on the rise. But if you're looking at us from the other side of the world, definitely make sure to put some focus on the community college on your list of schools.
Venkat Raman 39:53
Fantastic. Okay, so Miloni thank you so much for taking the time to explain and tell us all about community colleges and why it ought to be a viable option. And I appreciate all the points that you've made. And so, for now, I want to say thank you, but I'm sure we'll talk again, soon. Take care. And good luck. Thank you again.
Thank you. It's always a pleasure. Take care.
Venkat Raman 40:25
Hope you enjoyed our podcast with Dr Miloni Gandhi on Community Colleges.
This was a great overview of the Community College system in the US, the opportunities it offers students and how to apply.
I hope this podcast motivates you to consider Community Colleges as a smart option for your college study.
For your questions or comments on this podcast, please email podcast at almamatters.io [email@example.com] with the Subject: Community Colleges.
Thank you all so much for listening to our podcast today.
Transcripts for this podcast and previous podcasts are on almamatters.io forward slash podcasts [almamatters.io/podcasts].
Till we meet again, take care and be safe.
US Colleges, College Admissions, Extracurricular, International Students, Community College, Applying to Community College, Transfer to 4-year College, Transfer to Four Year College, Certificate Program, Lifelong Learners, Foothill College, Choosing Community College.