Did you know that the first community college was founded in 1901 in Joliet, Illinois? Or that 40 percent of community college students are first-generation college students? Community colleges are to thank for educating the nation—almost half of all undergraduates in the U.S. are enrolled in community colleges—but here are some other interesting tidbits you might not know about them (thanks to the American Association of Community Colleges, whose national data and 2013 fast facts provided much of the data for this post):

1. Community colleges are affordable—but just how affordable?

On average, about 62 percent less expensive than four-year public colleges. They also give students the opportunity to earn their bachelor’s degrees more affordably, with transferrable credits and many states offering articulation agreements with their states’ four-year colleges.

2. Many interesting and talented people are drawn to community colleges.

Here are several notable community college alumni:

  • Nolan Archibald, CEO, Black & Decker Corporation (Dixie Junior College, 1966)
  • James Belushi, actor, comedian, and businessman (College of DuPage)
  • David Chu, founder of Nautica International apparel company (Fashion Institute of Technology)
  • Billy Crystal, actor (Nassau Community College, 1968)
  • Oscar Hijuelos, author, 1990 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for novel, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love (Bronx Community College, 1973)
  • Calvin Klein, fashion designer and founder of Calvin Klein (Fashion Institute of Technology, 1963)
  • George Lucas, film producer, screenwriter, creator of Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises (Modesto Junior College, 1964)
  • Ross Perot, presidential candidate (Texarkana College)
  • Nolan Ryan, former Major League Baseball pitcher, owner of the Texas Rangers (Alvin Community College, 1971)
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger, former California governor (Santa Monica Community College)

3. There are 1,132 community colleges in the United States.

The majority of those—986—are public colleges, while 115 are independent, and 31 are tribal colleges. 59 percent of community college students attend part time, while 41 percent attend full time; and 62 percent enroll for credit, while 38 percent take non-credit courses—primarily workforce training courses.

4. Who are community college students?

The average age of community college students is 28, while the makeup is 57 percent women, 43 percent men. As mentioned above, 40 percent of community college students are the first generation in their family to attend college. Sixteen percent are single parents. Seven percent are non-U.S. citizens. Three percent are veterans. And 12 percent are students with disabilities.

5. Community colleges get their funding from…

  • State funding = 29.2%
  • Tuition and fees = 27.7%
  • Federal funding = 16.6%
  • Local funding = 16.3%
  • Other funding = 10.2%

6. Community colleges are the primary educators of Registered Nurses.

In the U.S. they’ve played a major role in addressing the shortage of nurses in the industry. They are also the primary educators of firefighters, law enforcement officers, and emergency medical technicians.

In 2010, President Barack Obama called community colleges the “unsung heroes” of our nation’s education system, stating that “they provide a gateway to millions of Americans to good jobs and a better life.” Community colleges are indeed a critical part of educating America and one of the keys to improving our country’s economy. So if you’re a community college student, alumni, or even just a supporter, be proud.

You’re building something great.


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