A Great Addition to Advanced Placement Classes

Want your high school student to be prepared for college? You can find some of the best training wheels at community colleges.

For a high school student, taking a community college class is equivalent to enrolling in an Advanced Placement class. A friend of mine, who is a top dog at a community college district in Southern California, argues that getting an “A” in a junior college class is more impressive than getting the same grade in an AP class. Why? One reason is because colleges don’t normally coddle kids. College instructors don’t give students breaks if they don’t complete assignments or they bomb on tests.

That’s been the experience of my 16-year-old son Ben, who has been taking a math class at our local community college for each of the past three semesters. He studies harder for his community college classes because he knows he won’t get homework extensions or opportunities to get extra credit to boost his grade.

And these aren’t easy classes. Half of the students in my son’s calculus class this summer have dropped out. The classes Ben is taking are the same ones that kids at four-year institutions in the state, such as the University of California, San Diego, and San Diego State are taking.

This is going to sound weird, but my pet peeve about the community colleges — at least out here in California –   is that they are too cheap. The state only charges $20 a credit hour, which adds up to about $300 a semester for a full-time student. When the state, which is experiencing the worst fiscal crisis in its history, has tried to raise tuition, people scream. Boosting the price, however, would actually save many students money because they could graduate quicker.

At my son’s community college, about 50 classes were cut due to budget problems this summer and yet the enrollment has soared. My son almost didn’t get into his class because he waited until a few days before school started to register. (Not smart.) In fact, the class was filled, but the math teacher took pity on him and gave him a seat.

When I read coverage of the California community college crisis, I never see any connection made between the low fees and the horrendous fiscal problems that the schools face. Just today, however, I ran across an editorial in The Los Angeles Times that sensibly argues for doubling community college fees.

You can learn more about preparing your child for college — and paying the tab — by reading my book, The College Solution, and visiting my other college blog at CBSMoneyWatch.com.

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