Before you can understand the differences in the classroom environment between community colleges and universities, you need to know the fundamental ideas that separate the two.
For example, the outcomes offered by these two types of schools are light years apart. Community colleges seek to prepare you for transfer to university (usually after attending community college for 2 years), which means they provide mainly general education courses along with some vocational programs and prerequisite classes for certain majors.
You cannot generally earn a four-year bachelors degree at the community college level, although you may certainly obtain an associate's degree - a two year degree (recognized by universities).
4-year-colleges and universities, on the other hand (which are virtually synonymous in the United States) aim to provide you with a bachelor's degree that will kick start your career or propel you to a master's or doctorate program. And considering that the goals are very different from one institution to the next, it should come as no surprise that the classroom settings also vary.
Difference Between Community College And University Inside The Classroom
To begin with, community college campuses tend to be much smaller than their university brethren, and there are a couple of reasons for this.
The number of community colleges
First, there are far more community colleges than 4-year institutions. Whereas every town or city of a certain size might host one or more community colleges, students will only have a handful of choices for colleges and universities within a state. So these smaller, community schools feed into the larger university system. The result is that community colleges may host only a few thousand local students at a time while universities accommodate tens of thousands of students that come from within the state, the nation, and even international locales. And the difference of this can be felt in the classroom...
Community college classroom sizes are way smaller and intimate
Secondly, community college classes tend to be smaller than universities, both in terms of space available and the cap on enrollment. So while class sizes could be in the dozens for a popular course at a community college, the average class size is more likely to be comparable to high school, which is to say around 30 students. And the level of enrollment depends largely on the facilities available to house students, generally limited by whatever theater or auditorium on campus can accommodate up to a hundred students or more.
As for universities, which tend to have sprawling campuses and much more spacious buildings, class sizes can swell to as large as several hundred students, and there may be many suitable facilities of this nature.
The are a few upsides to going to community college before university:
- Students may receive more personal attention, as well as more opportunities to participate in class and interact with teachers (while university students will be handled by a cadre of teaching assistants in large class sizes)
- Staying close to home if you're not quite ready to move out
- The insanely low cost of tuition of attending community college
- Being able to transfer your credits from community college to university
Professors at community college have more time for you!
Of course, it should be noted that many community colleges do not tend to attract the same notoriety when it comes to professors, so that many PhD level instructors will go on to universities rather than community colleges, for example. However, this doesn't mean that the level of education will be lacking in any way. In truth, the PhD level professors that DO teach at community colleges are amazing because they are passionate about the college and have a special connection with their students. So try to get the best professors when registering for classes.
Although you may elect to go on to a bachelor's program or even an online MBA after community college, you should know that each type of school has something unique to offer. So while they are different, one is not necessarily better than another; they are all just steps that take you closer to your career.
And you can always transfer from community college to any university.