Sure, community college can be a less expensive way to finish two years of a four-year degree like business or psychology. Or you can go to a community college to train for a job as a nurse or corrections officer. But many community colleges offer unusual programs that you can’t find anywhere else. Do you want to major in something your friends have never heard of? A community college — whether it’s in your community or not — just might be the place.
Specialized majors at some community colleges draw students from all over the country and even across the world. Graduates can start careers right away or apply their credits to bachelor’s degrees. If a traditional major isn’t for you, maybe you’d find your niche in one of these unique programs.
Palm Beach State College
Want to work in the food industry but don’t picture yourself in a restaurant kitchen? Perhaps the sugarcane industry is for you.
One program at Palm Beach State College trains students for work refining sugarcane into the white powder you pour into your coffee. The college’s major in sugar technology is based at a campus in the heart of southern Florida’s sugarcane-growing region. Students learn how sugarcane is grown, processed into raw sugar and refined into table sugar.
Lee Liang, who teaches in Palm Beach State’s sugar technology program, explains that in the mid-2000s, local sugar companies asked the college to develop a program to train future managers and technicians for their refineries.
Most sugar technology majors are from sugarcane-growing parts of Florida and are already familiar with the industry when they start classes. In two years they can earn a degree that opens up a path toward higher-level jobs in sugar mills and refineries. And those jobs aren’t just in Florida — Hawaii, Texas and Louisiana are also major sugar producers.
“They can always go to other states that have sugarcane,” Liang says.
Northwestern Michigan College (www.nmc.edu)
How about a major that gives you the chance to map the geological features that lie under the surface of a giant lake — or maybe even explore a shipwreck? These opportunities are part of the freshwater studies major at Northwestern Michigan College. The college is near Lake Michigan, one of the world’s largest lakes, so it’s the perfect place for students who want to learn about how their passion for waterways can lead to a job.
Hans VanSumeren, director of Northwestern Michigan’s Great Lakes Water Studies Institute, says the major opened in 2009 for students who want to work in fields like conservation and environmental research. It draws students from all over Michigan and as far away as California.
He doesn’t see freshwater studies majors having a hard time landing jobs since water quality will play an important role over the next several decades in fields like oil and gas drilling and the care of contaminated industrial sites. In fact, students have received job offers while still in college. The major also prepares students who plan to earn a bachelor’s degree, which some graduates have pursued.
“We have a lot of passionate students who want to save the world, save the water, save the environment,” VanSumeren says. “The job titles that they’ll be doing aren’t even in existence yet.”
Scientific Glass Technology
Salem Community College (www.salemcc.edu)
You’ve probably heard science-based jobs are plentiful, but have you ever thought about working in science while using your art skills? Students who major in scientific glass technology learn how to help scientists who need specific glass instruments for their research.
“We build small-scale chemical plants,” explains Dennis Briening, instructional chair for the program at Salem Community College in southern New Jersey. “Depending on what the chemist has in mind, we’ll help them design it.”
Many graduates go on to work in university and government research labs. Others who earn an associate’s degree in scientific glass technology land jobs at companies that make glass tools for labs. Still others start their own businesses or pursue four-year chemistry degrees.
Salem Community College’s program, which started more than 50 years ago, is the only one in the country. Briening has had students from Idaho, Kenya and Oman.
“Some people think it’s a craft. Some people think it’s a profession,” Briening says. “A lot of scientific glassblowers have that inner artist inside.”