The U.S. has more than 4700 degree-granting colleges and universities: roughly 1700 community and technical colleges and 3000 four-year institutions, ranging from liberal arts colleges through masters’ and doctoral/research universities. Each plays a key role, and teaching is important at all of them, but as high school seniors are beginning to make choices about where to matriculate, it is important to understand the differences between two and four-year colleges and why students might want to attend a research university like The University of Akron.
Two- vs. four-year colleges
Lower tuition costs have made starting at a two-year college a seemingly more attractive choice, especially for low income students, than beginning at a four-year research university. Indeed, more than 60% of first-generation, low-income students who attended public community colleges reported that they wanted to earn a bachelor’s degree or more (Pell Institute, 2008). Yet, despite these aspirations, the Pell Institute found that a mere 5% of these students earned their bachelor’s degrees within six years. More generally, “low-income, first-generation students were actually more than seven times more likely to earn bachelor’s degrees if they started in four-year institutions … . A large number of low-income, first-generation students began – and ended – their studies at public two-year and for-profit institutions” (Pell Institute, p. 2). So while a two-year college may appear to be cheaper initially, a four-year university is often a better long-term value for money.
What you learn – and where you learn it – is important
A few years ago, an article in US News & World Report gave 10 reasons why students should go to a research university. Included among these are:
Top researchers can be the best teachers (for instance, if you want to learn the scientific method, it is better to do so from someone who is actively using it)
Courses at research universities often contain the latest knowledge on a given topic (you may be taking a course with someone who literally wrote the book on it)
You may get to directly collaborate with leading experts in the field, rather than learning from someone who simply reads books and articles written by them.
Graduating from a research university can give one a leg up in the job market and when applying to graduate/professional schools for advanced education.
The research done by faculty at our nation’s universities ensures that our society will progress for generations to come. Students at research universities are also much more likely to make connections–to faculty and to their fellow students–which will serve them well in their careers for years to come. This is why research universities are an ideal setting for emerging adults to learn, grow, and become successful in real world careers (rather than in short-term jobs). At four-year research universities, students learn so much more than job skills; they learn the critical thinking skills, tools for inquiry, and self-expression that employers want – and that our society requires.