Comparison Between Community Colleges and Four-Year Institutions

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on Apr 30, 2014

Community colleges and four-year colleges and universities are institutions of higher education. Although they all play important roles in educating students and helping people get their start in life, it helps to keep their basic differences in mind as you think about which may be better for you.

The table below sets out major aspects of each type of institution. You'll find more detailed information about community college programs, how to select a community college, and details about admissions in subsequent chapters.


Comparing Types of Colleges


Community College

Four-Year Private or Public Institution

Many community colleges have open admissions policies, meaning that anyone who can benefit is welcome to attend. There are usually minimal qualifications for admission to  degree and certificate programs;however, some programs"especially in the allied health sciences"are highly selective, have rigorous admissions criteria, and accept only  a small number of students each year.  

You will need a high school diploma or a high school equivalency certificate based on the General Educational Development (GED) test to take courses for credit. Many non-credit courses are generally open to anyone who wants to enroll.

Students take assessment and admitted. placement tests to determine their appropriate class level. Basic skills or developmental courses, plus English language classes, may be required prior to enrollment in college-level courses for credit.

Four-year colleges and universities vary in their degrees of selectivity and some do have open admissions policies. Selection is most often based on competitive factors including standardized test scores, such as the SAT and ACT, high school grade point average and coursework, letters of recommendation, and admissions essays. A  high school diploma or high school equivalency certificate (GED) is generally required in order for an applicant to be admitted.

The community college student body is often described as "non-traditional," referring to independent, older adults who are entering college for the first time or returning after some time. range of Traditional" college-age students (18"22 years old) entering directly from high school are increasing in numbers, especially as full-time students in day programs.

Most students are in-state residents from the local area; some foreign-born students also attend.

The majority of students attend part time (less than 12 credit hours per semester).

Many students in baccalaureate programs start right out of high school and fall into the traditional college-age 18-22 years.

Students come from across the country and around the world.

Most students attend on attend a full-time basis.

Most community colleges offer a comprehensive curriculum (course of study) that focuses mainly on liberal arts and sciences, plus vocational and technical training for direct entry into the workforce, an option that most four-year such as institutions do not offer. Continuing education and workforce development programs are integral to community colleges' mission to meet local needs. The undergraduate curriculum (course of study) focuses mainly on liberal arts and sciences, preparation for professional degrees law or medicine, and preparation for other graduate level education. Many four-year institutions also offer continuing education and workforce training programs.
An associate's degree is usually the highest degree awarded; however, a few states"Florida, Arkansas, Utah" have begun to allow community  colleges to offer a bachelor's (baccalaureate) degree. Most degree  programs can be completed in 2   years of full-time attendance.  Certificate programs typically take a year or less to complete if you go full time. All four-year colleges and universities offer a bachelor's (baccalaureate) degree as the highest undergraduate degree. Some also offer an associate's degree. The bachelor's degree typically takes 4 to 6 years to complete.
Community colleges are mainly geared to commuters; however, about 20 percent of community colleges do offer a more traditional college experience with on-campus housing available to students.  Most four-year institutions are geared to full-time, residential students with on-campus housing in dormitories widely available (although they may also have a commuter population).
Faculty members are mainly focused on teaching as their primary responsibility; many colleges require faculty to have master's degrees and there are a growing number who also hold doctorates.  Faculty members' focus is divided among teaching, research, and publication; there is a higher percentage of faculty with doctorates than in community  colleges.
Class size averages between 25 and 40 students. Classes are taught by full-time or part-time (adjunct) faculty.      Although average class size varies, many lower-division (freshman and sophomore) classes, especially lecture classes, can be very large and are often taught by graduate teaching assistants.
Tuition for community colleges is  affordable.

Tuition costs at public institutions are usually at least twice that of community collegesand often more at a private institution.


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