Where Are Nearly Half of Undergraduates Initially Exposed to Psychology?

Researchers estimate that approximately 500,000 community college students enroll in various psychology courses each year in the United States (Johnson & Rudmann, 2004).

“Most students at four year schools — most people for that matter — do not understand the amount of learning that goes on in community colleges,” says APS Fellow and Charter Member Diane F. Halpern, who has directed workshops and lectures for community college faculty. “These campuses need to be a part of any conversation about education in psychology.”

Halpern points to certain factors that high-quality community colleges programs have in common. Good programs have a realistic idea about their role and help students with the transition to a four-year program. They usually monitor the students more closely, which includes course advising and career advancement training. Because the majority of community colleges offer psychology courses out of a larger entity such as Arts and Sciences or Social Science rather than a specialized department of psychology (Johnson & Rudmann, 2004), this monitoring can be especially difficult. Quality campuses often support an active chapter of Psi Beta, the National Honor Society in Psychology for Community and Junior Colleges. Part of Psi Beta’s mission is to promote excellence in research and scholarship. These activities prepare two-year college students for later success, whether in the workplace or in the classroom post-transfer to a four-year institution.

The level of education of the professors also contributes to psychology’s success at community colleges. The overwhelming majority of the 9,000 psychology professors at these schools hold postsecondary degrees in psychology or related fields (Johnson & Rudmann, 2004).

Nearly half of all undergraduates are initially exposed to psychology in community college. With so many students transitioning from two-year to four-year college, providing a strong foundation of psychological science in America’s community colleges may be one of the most important ways of ensuring psychological literacy in generations of young adults.


Halpern, D.F. (Ed.). (2010). Undergraduate education in psychology: A blueprint for the future of the discipline. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Johnson, R.L., & Rudmann, J.L. (2004). Psychology at community colleges: A survey. Teaching of Psychology, 31, 183-185.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2008). Digest of education statistics. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d08/tables/dt08_266.asp

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