When Mario Gonzalez was a freshman at East Central University in Ada, he found himself in an unfortunate situation.
Gonzalez played football at ECU as a walk-on, but his playing career was cut short due to injuries. Rather than continuing to attend ECU, he transferred to Western Oklahoma State College, in his hometown of Altus, where he earned his associate degree in business administration.
Now 23, Gonzalez is a senior at the University of Central Oklahoma. Although he eventually left Altus to continue his education, Gonzalez said transferring to a community college for two years was a good decision for him.
Tuition was less expensive, he said, and going to school in Altus allowed him to save on living expenses by living with his parents.
“It was a wonderful choice,” he said.
A new report shows that students like Gonzalez make up the majority of Oklahoma's undergraduates.
The report comes from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center as a part of a series of snapshot reports dealing with student mobility. According to the report, 58 percent of students who receive a bachelor's degree in Oklahoma have credit from a community college on their transcripts.
Nationwide, 45 percent of students take courses at community colleges before receiving their bachelor's degrees. Although Oklahoma is above average in that regard, Texas tops the list, with 78 percent of bachelor's degree holders having at least some community college credit.
Oklahoma had the seventh highest percentage of bachelor's degree earners with community college credit. Other Plains states tended to be above average, as well — Kansas was fourth on the list, with 65 percent. Nebraska was just behind Oklahoma, in eighth place with 57 percent.
According to the study, community colleges play a far lesser role in northeastern states like Delaware and New Hampshire, where just 22 percent of those with bachelor's degrees took community college courses.
Gary Davidson, executive director of the Oklahoma Association for Community Colleges, said he couldn't be sure why community colleges play a greater role in states like Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas than elsewhere. But he suspects the size of those states may be a factor.
States like Oklahoma and Texas have populations that are spread out across all corners of the state, he said, and many areas in both states are sparsely populated. That means college could present a challenge for a student who lives in a remote part of the state and isn't able to relocate to go to school.
Community colleges also offer a good option for students who aren't prepared for a four-year university their freshman year. Community colleges are open enrollment, he said, meaning they take any student who is interested in attending.
They also tend to be cheaper than four-year schools, which can be helpful for students who receive federal student aid, he said. Students who begin their academic careers at community colleges use up less of their aid packages than those who go immediately to a four-year school.
“Excellence doesn't have to be exclusive and it doesn't have to be expensive,” he said.