In some respects, high school seniors graduating this year have it lucky. That's not to say the economy is booming, student debt load is dropping and everyone gets a pet unicorn. It does mean, however, that post-high-school education options are growing and offering alternatives as never before to the standard four-years-at-college paradigm.
And the most important of these alternatives is community college. More and more, Howard Community College, the Community College of Baltimore County, Prince George's Community College and other such institutions in Maryland are no longer the backup plan or the "13th grade." They are a smart alternative, and not just because the tuition and other costs are roughly half of those at a four-year college.
The stigma of community college as an educational default position is rapidly dissipating as distinguished educators turn up in classrooms. Why would they do that? For one thing, the love of teaching. Classroom size at a community college is usually smaller, affording more interaction with students. Also, professors have little or no pressure on them to publish or do research as an adjunct to teaching.
Furthermore, students enrolled in community colleges often find themselves among more serious and older students who have a greater stake in their education than some teenagers in four-year schools for whom scholarly pursuit is just one choice on the college lifestyle menu.
Armed with an associates degree from a community college, students often find they have a ticket to ride. Maryland guarantees admission to state colleges, including the flagship University of Maryland College Park, for those who have successfully completed a two-year community college program. It hardly matters where you started if you end up with a Tarp or Tiger or Retriever diploma.
For those who have little interest in academic life, community colleges offer vocational and technical training. Interested in the entrepreneurial possibilities in 3-D printing? Community college has you covered. And there are more such options all the time.
In short, community college offers more bang for the buck. People are coming to realize that it's not a shortcut or a knockoff, but a sensible route to a valuable skill set or a four-year diploma. Maybe it deserves prominence on a resume. A potential employer might say, "That's a smart kid."