Community college a preferable, more affordable choice for some

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By Alexander Smith
Listen Up Lansing Staff Reporter

The differences between a community college like Lansing Community College and a four-year institution such as Michigan State are staggering.

According to both colleges’ price calculators, tuition and fees for two full-time semesters (12 credits) for an in-district freshman costs $2,930 at LCC and $10,900 at MSU. That price doesn’t reflect housing costs either, so for anyone already living in Lansing, the savings become a major factor when choosing.

Price per full semester, graph by Alexander Smith

Price per full semester, graph by Alexander Smith

“I chose LCC because it’s cheaper, it’s easier for someone like me who doesn’t have a lot of money,” said LCC music student Ben Nelson. “I can do part-time, so I can keep working at my job, and they offer a great program for the major that I want.”

Nelson has no plans to go beyond an associate’s degree.

“Because my degree is specialized, I feel like I can just get my associate’s here and I’ll be fine,” said Nelson. “Otherwise I feel like LCC is a place you should go to then transfer to another school.”

LCC South entrance, photo courtesy of Lansing Community College

LCC South entrance, photo courtesy of Lansing Community College

While community college can be a smart choice, there’s often a stigma associated with going to a smaller school. Lack of prestige is a reason, but LCC Provost Richard Prystowsky said that’s only partly why stigma toward community college still exists.

“Because community colleges are open-access, there’s a lot of implicit bias toward the students that go there,” said Prystowsky. “Many many years ago, there was some truth to that, but times have changed. We get a lot of students who are academically prepared and successful, and for all kinds of reasons want to start with us and go elsewhere. That’s common across the country now.”

Prystowsky said LCC transfers around 1,600 students annually to other colleges. Kinesiology student Dan McCallum intends to make the transition to MSU, but chose LCC for a couple reasons.

“One reason is to save money, I can get my basics out of the way here,” said McCallum. “Also the classrooms are smaller, and I feel like I can get a better base education here. I’ve noticed that my teachers are always very helpful.”

Cost is a factor, but class size is also important. Most community colleges do not have the space for hundreds of student per classroom; LCC class size consistently stays in the low double-digits. However, smaller classes means better access to instructors.

“My friend who goes to MSU, he’s in a class with 300 students, doesn’t remember his teacher’s name, the teacher doesn’t really know him, so it’s a little different,” said McCallum. “Community college, you get a different education out of it. They may not have as many resources here as MSU, but you definitely get a personal education here.”

MSU sign, courtesy of Michigan State University

MSU sign, courtesy of Michigan State University

Class size affects teachers too. Zachary Macomber teaches economics at LCC and MSU, and said teaching tens of students is much different than teaching hundreds.

“At MSU, my class sizes have been 300-400 and up,” said Macomber. “At LCC where I do the majority of my teaching, the class size caps out at 35.”

Teaching in a large lecture setting means teachers like Macomber cannot connect with every student.

“I know a handful of students from last semester and this semester,” said Macomber. “They’re the ones that come to my office hours.”

When making the decision based on class size, Macomber said it’s different strokes for different folks.

“If people feel confident they can pick up the material, pick up what they need to do on their own, they’re probably just fine doing it in a lecture,” said Macomber. “If they want something that’s a little more catered, something that puts the student first a little more, the smaller class size is a lot better for them.”

Class size comparison, graph by Alexander Smith

Class size comparison, graph by Alexander Smith

Ultimately, simply having the choice between community college and a university means more students overall. Prystowsky said LCC has a particular obligation toward students who are limited by funds or level of education.

“Community colleges are really the great equalizer in a democracy. Everybody wins when students are successful. Ask any economist and they’ll tell you everybody wins when students are successful,” said Prystowsky. “There’s no question that more people with college degrees is going to equate to more prosperity in this country.”

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