Happy Fall! I hope your academic year is going well!
I recently had the pleasure of speaking at a conference in my region, and it really got me thinking. The name of the conference was “Guiding the Health Professions Student: A Conference for Counselors,” and the audience was comprised of about 100 Southern California community college counselors. The conference gave me the opportunity to share information about the profession of optometry with counselors who directly impact the career choices of students enrolled in their programs. It also gave me a chance to learn about their concerns, challenges and opportunities.
In today’s higher education landscape, what are community colleges all about? According to the American Association of Community Colleges, there are nearly 1,200 community colleges in the U.S. with an enrollment of more than 12.4 million students. Community colleges are reported to serve almost half of all undergraduate students in the United States. Community colleges are known for open access to postsecondary education and can be especially supportive of first-generation college students and students from rural areas. Community colleges are said to offer a distinct learning environment and are recognized for smaller class sizes, more individualized attention and a supportive atmosphere. With the costs of higher education increasing, many people consider community colleges to be a more affordable option, with savings of thousands of dollars. The average cost of attending public community college is $2,713 per year. By comparison, the average cost of attending a public four-year college or university is $7,605 per year.
How do our optometry students engage with community colleges? I think that we have all seen examples in our admissions processes and in our classrooms. We often see applicants who started off at a community college before transferring to a four-year university. It is quite common to see applicants who are enrolled in a four-year university but who may take some pre-requisite courses at a community college over the summer. It is not unusual for us to see applicants who may pick up some courses at community college while transitioning from another career, and many of our country’s veterans utilize their education benefits at community colleges, perhaps on their pathway to seeking a career in the profession of optometry.
On a personal note: at the conference, I shared that I am a third-generation community college student! When my grandmother was widowed for the second time, she needed to find a way to transition from her role as a mother and a homemaker, and the local community college helped her earn her degree as a licensed practical nurse. When my father ended his time in the service, as a veteran he attended the same community college to earn credits to transfer into a four-year degree program. After high school, I attended the exact same community college on my way to preparing for admission into optometry school. And...this summer, my son became the fourth generation in my family to benefit from enrollment at our local community college by taking a summer class to transfer to his four-year university. You can see why I am a fan of community colleges!
How can the optometric education community support community colleges? Here are just a few ideas to brainstorm. What if our member institutions engaged with their local community colleges to: provide vision screenings, offer comprehensive eye examinations, create sports vision programs for athletic teams or sponsor mentors for students interested in the health professions? What about collaborating for interprofessional activities with health professions students at the community college level such as programs in nursing, dental hygiene, radiology technician, phlebotomy, EMS, medical assisting and surgical technology, to name a few. And most of all, how about our community working with their community to share the great message: "Optometry Gives Me Life!"
Dr. Elizabeth Hoppe