Recently, Gov. Phil Bredesen discussed a plan to have more students begin their secondary education at two-year institutions. I believe this is an excellent plan and that there are many advantages for those who choose to start at local community colleges.
One of the first benefits students will notice is that most community colleges cost significantly less than four-year schools. This can help students who might not be able to afford a four-year school begin their studies without having to take valuable time off after high school or incur huge debt to fund increasingly expensive four-year college tuition.
The next thing most students will notice is the smaller class sizes at most community colleges. This is particularly important for students who are just beginning college and can often feel lost in the crowd at larger institutions. They will receive the one-on-one attention from professors that will set them up for success, not only in school but in life.
These factors make two-year schools a great value for students looking to continue at a four-year university.
Local community colleges also offer many students the bridge they need between high school and a four-year school. Right now, many high school graduates are setting themselves up for failure by attending a four-year school right away. Some of these students aren’t sure what they want to study and may lack the maturity to live far from home, often alone for the first time. By choosing a local community college, students will have the time to learn about different majors, without feeling pressured to choose before they are ready.
Also, by staying closer to home these young people will be able to deal with life problems close to the support of their family and friends instead of surrounded by strangers in an unfamiliar place. In many ways, this sense of community is the most important thing that community colleges offer students.
It’s not just the students who benefit but, in fact, the whole state that gains when young people take advantage of the community college system. As more students begin their secondary education at two-year schools, four-year schools will become much more efficient; and with greater efficiency will come cost savings and, most importantly, our state’s dropout rate will continue to fall. With higher graduation rates, Tennessee will be able to attract more and more of the kind of good-paying jobs that will help our economy grow.
As a product of Tennessee’s great public higher education system, first at Vol State and then at the University of Memphis, I am proof that two-year institutions have a valuable role to play in the education of our state’s young people, and it is for these reasons that I wholeheartedly support the governor’s plan.
State Rep. Ty Cobb is a Democrat from Columbia representing District 64.
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