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Before I transferred to the University, I spent the first two years of my college experience at Southwest Mississippi Community College in Summit, Mississippi. I didn’t begin at a community college because I was afraid of starting at a university. Rather, I knew doing so would provide financial benefits, and I could knock out several prerequisite courses before transferring.

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump attempted to liken the terms "vocational school" and "community college," by saying, "The word ‘vocational’ is a much better word than in many cases, a community college." His statement diminishes the extensive role community colleges have begun to take on in the route to a four-year degree.

Vocational schools are not community colleges; the two institutions are not the same thing. The majority of students enrolled in courses at community colleges are working toward a two-year associate degree. Some community colleges do provide vocational training in areas that allow students to quickly enter the workforce, but that is not their sole purpose.

Vocational schools typically offer programs that train students on specific trades or skills such as welding, cosmetology, carpentry, electrical installation and many others. After two years or less, students receive a vocational certificate and then begin to search for jobs related to that skill.

Community colleges, similar to four-year colleges, provide a variety of courses, student clubs and athletic teams. Students obtain their associate degree while following a core curriculum, and then often transfer to a four-year university to begin working toward their bachelor’s degree.

A report conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics states that in the fall of 2016, 6.2 million students were enrolled in two-year community colleges, which is nearly 31 percent of all college students. Roughly 46 percent of all students who completed a degree at a four-year institution in the 2013-14 academic year had been enrolled at a two-year institution at some point in the previous 10 years, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

"Asking community colleges to abandon the transfer portion of their mission, is saying that we want a decline in four-year degrees and an increase in student loan debt in this country," said President and CEO of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, Lynn Tincher-Ladner, in a Facebook post.

Another benefit community colleges provide is dual-enrollment, where high school students can enroll in college courses for credit prior to graduation. In Texas, high school students make up 25 percent of the total enrollment at 17 of the state’s 50 community college districts.

The financial benefit of community colleges cannot be denied. There are now 11 states that currently offer two years of tuition-free community college after a movement was pushed by former president Barack Obama in his State of the Union address in 2015.

"Tennessee, a state with Republican leadership, and Chicago, a city with Democratic leadership, are showing that free community college is possible," Obama said. "I want to spread that idea all across America, so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today."

Community colleges have become well-respected within higher education. More people, like myself, are beginning to see the advantages they provide to Americans in the pursuit of a four-year degree. When Trump says "a lot of people don’t know what a community college means or represents," he is most likely talking about himself.

 

Seth Nieman is a 21-year-old mass communication senior from McComb, Mississippi.