Community colleges provide unique experience for students

Scott Barnes

Staff Writer

A larger numbers of students, bigger classrooms and a bigger campus are just a few of the differences between a community college and a four-year university.

Photo by Scott Wells | The Prospectus The G.L. Clark Hall at the University of Illinois shows the large class sizes of many universities.  Community Colleges generally have less students, and are therefore able to provide much smaller classroom sizes.

Photo by Scott Wells | The Prospectus
The G.L. Clark Hall at the University of Illinois shows the large class sizes of many universities. Community Colleges generally have less students, and are therefore able to provide much smaller classroom sizes.

But bigger isn’t always better, according to some students and teachers.

Charles Lin, who is a Parkland student majoring in computer science, has had the experience of attending classes both here at Parkland and at the University of Illinois.

“(The U of I) is an interesting place but a bit harsh,” Lin said. “The student teacher ratio is a lot different because there’s so many more students there, especially in the lower level courses.”

Lin said the environment was somewhat intimidating to a person coming straight from high school and he explained that getting around from one class to another was a bit stressful.

“The campus at Parkland is a lot smaller,” Lin said. “Even though it is kind of a maze, it’s a lot easier because you don’t have to walk half a mile just to get to your next class.”

It’s not just students who find the community college experience to be beneficial. Some Parkland instructors would rather teach in a smaller environment where they can focus on teaching, learning, and developing closer relationships with students.

Professor Montserrat Oliveras–Heras has been teaching at Parkland since 2004. She explained that she likes being part of the faculty here at Parkland because of the relationships she develops with the students.

“I have always had a very close relationship with my students,” Oliveras Heras said. “I like to talk to them. I like to know their goals and their fears, but I think that here you have the chance because they are around more. The campus is smaller so you interact with them more.”

Sara Thiel is a new instructor who has only been teaching at Parkland for a few weeks but has already experienced the willingness that students have to develop relationships with their instructors. She said the culture of Parkland feels like a close-knit community.

“It does feel more communal,” Thiel said. “Obviously, it’s a community but it’s communal in a way that is difficult to establish at the university level, or at least a very large university level, because it’s just not a part of the learning culture.”

Thiel described the learning environment at UIUC as “distant” but pointed out that not all of the courses are taught in large lecture halls.

“It depends on the course, obviously. A lot of the classes themselves are quite a bit larger at the U of I,” Thiel said. “It’s a really passive learning environment in a lot of ways when you’ve got these really huge lectures.”

As a student, Lin said he feels like community college professors are also more interested in teaching than research.

“The teachers here are here to teach, but the teachers at the U of I may not be there to teach,” Lin explained. “They may be there to do something else; maybe research and things like that. They might just fill the teaching role because they have to.”

Professor Isabel Scarborough has been teaching anthropology courses here at Parkland for three years. She spoke about the competitive environment at UIUC.

“It’s very competitive. Who is publishing more than whom? It’s kind of like there’s this internal competition going on,” Scarborough explained. “Because there’s kind of like a hierarchy and you’re trying to kind of advance at that.”

Scarborough explained that she prefers to teach at Parkland College because the focus is on learning rather than research.

“Because it’s more teaching centered it’s really about student success,” Scarborough explained. “If you’re really into teaching like I am and you like it and you feel passionate about it, it’s a great place to be.”