Benefits of a Two-Year College
There are many opinions and preconceived notions about two-year schools and the truth actually resides somewhere in the middle.
The topic of two-year colleges usually brings up some form of debate. There are those who feel that two-year colleges are designed specifically for students that are not prepared to go to a four-year school. And there are those that feel two-year colleges are where every student graduating from Montana high schools should start their post-secondary education. There are many opinions and preconceived notions about two-year schools and the truth actually resides somewhere in the middle.
The root of both debates is in the total cost of attendance. The tuition and fees are generally around half of what you see at four-year schools. Also, students at two-year schools are usually not required to live in dorms or have a meal plan, although students may be given that opportunity. This means that the total cost of attendance is much lower at a two-year school compared to a four-year school. For this reason, some people assume that the level of education must be lower than a four-year college or university. If the cost is so much less then they must not pay professors or instructors very much and that translates to lower quality instruction. Adding to this is the fact that in the past two-year colleges were mainly vocational focused and vocational studies were pretty much only pushed onto those that didn’t seem to have the aptitude for “real” higher education. Your parents probably still refer to most two-year colleges as “Vo-Tech” or “Junior College”. As a matter of fact, eight years ago, the two-year colleges in Montana that were previously named with the handle of the four-year institution followed by College of Technology were completely rebranded to distance from the predisposition of lower quality higher education. For instance, the University of Montana College of Technology became Missoula College.
The reality about the quality of instruction at two-year colleges is that many professors and instructors at those colleges are more interested in teaching than the research that is required of most four-year professors. This can actually mean that the level of instruction could be better in many instances because the professor could be more engaged in educating students. I don’t mean to claim that two-year schools never have poor instructors...sometimes they do. But so do four-year institutions. I went to a two-year school and transferred to a four-year school. The worst professor I had was at the four-year school. To that point, I always felt more comfortable talking to my instructors at the two-year school I attended. That could be more of a cultural thing between the two campuses though.
Another thing that many assume about two-year colleges is that they are geared completely towards students that want specific career training and a shorter window to attaining a degree and getting into the workforce. While this is true in many cases, two-year colleges in Montana also allow for customized education that can put a student on a path toward a four-year degree in the future. This is what some people will point to when arguing that every graduating senior should have to start their education at a two-year college to get the benefit of the lower cost of attendance while figuring out the best major or degree plan for them. This strategy would be good for many students, but not for every student. Many times there are misconceptions about how credits will transfer from two-year colleges. In Montana, it is pretty simple because of common course numbering in the Montana University System. If the same course is offered on multiple campuses it will have the exact same naming convention. For example, WRIT 101 is College Writing I at every MUS campus. When the courses are the same they are guaranteed to transfer, granted the course was passed with a C- or better. If you are looking to transfer from a two-year school to a private school or out-of-state school another level of tracking needs to be completed by the student. It is best practice to get written confirmation from the school you intend to attend that the courses you are taking will transfer. In the vast majority of cases, a course will transfer from Montana two-year institutions if the earned credit and course description match up.
What other benefits or disadvantages would you find in attending a two-year college you might ask? On the pro side, many two-year colleges have flexible schedules to accommodate a different types of students. Some traditional type students can take most classes during the regular “school day” while non-traditional or older students may need to take evening classes. Also, you will generally see smaller class sizes and may have the opportunity to stay closer to home. A number of two-year colleges in Montana are in regions that don’t have four-year college options. On the con side, the curriculum at a two-year school may be limited. However, most two-year schools that are affiliated with a four-year school, like Highlands College and Montana Tech, will allow students of the two-year school to take any 100 or 200 level course on the four-year campus. Another con you may find is that campus life can be pretty lacking on a two-year campus. When many students are taking classes in between jobs or have a family at home to take care of, they generally don’t hang around on campus. For this reason, you won’t see student activities to the level you would on a four-year campus. A feeling of connection to a place or environment is often ranked as one of the most important factors in student retention.
Every pro or con highlighted in this post is really subjective. You as a student need to figure out what is most important to you when making a choice on a best-fit college of the two-year or four-year variety. I hope the information in this post helps shed a little light on two-year colleges. As always you can find more great information at ReachHigherMontana.org and hit the Contact Us link to see information about an Advisor in your area that could provide some more detailed assistance.
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