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 Characteristics of Community Colleges 

The structure and programs offered at community colleges vary greatly across the country depending upon the needs of the communities they serve. Most Americans have a community college, branch campus, or extension center within an hour's drive of their homes, and they turn to their local college whenever they have educational or training needs. Community colleges also come in many shapes and sizes, from small rural colleges to very large multi-campus, urban colleges.

Community college revenues are derived primarily from the following sources: tuition and fees; federal, state, and local appropriations; and grants, gifts, and contracts with local business and industry. The proportion from each source depends on the college’s location; local tax appropriations are not used as a form of support for all states. On average, public community colleges receive almost two-fifths of their revenues from states and one-fifth each from localities and tuition dollars.

Community colleges are facing a great funding challenge in that state funding is not keeping pace with increasing costs due to inflation, an expected increase in high school graduation rates, and consequent college enrollment increases. In addition, the majority of states have a structural deficit in funding current services. Because of these factors, community colleges must make tough decisions about cutting services or increasing tuition.

Community colleges offer their students a broad array of certificate and associate degree programs. These programs range from business management to health professions to engineering to philosophy and religion. Whether students want to take a single course for personal enrichment or embark on an associate degree program and transfer to a 4-year institution, community colleges offer the programs that students desire.

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