Are community colleges useful?

I’ve been teaching myself Blender and learning about the video game industry in my free time, but I started worrying that there might be gaps in my knowledge, so I enrolled in a degree for Simulation and Video Game Development at a local community college. I don’t have the money to go somewhere expensive, and I’ve seen lots of advice from people I respect to avoid paying a lot of money for a degree. I thought a cheaper school might round me out and direct me toward what I need to learn next without breaking my piggy bank.

However, my experience so far has not been good. I’m learning some useful techniques in my photoshop class and gaining a lot of confidence in my skills, but it’s entirely self taught. The teacher literally hasn’t taught me anything. I just read the book and do the assignments on my own. These assignments are riddled with typos and self contradictions. In the other introductory class, I’m already way past everything they’re teaching. My teacher wants me to use some antique program called Wings3D to do the assignments, and he refused to let me use Blender or any other modern software instead. If it were Maya, I might understand his logic, but it’s just so backwards and I have to wonder if he just doesn’t know how to use any other programs himself.

Now I’m thinking about transferring into a different community college that has had some positive media coverage, but I’m wondering if my experience will be just as bad anywhere else I go. The college experience just doesn’t seem well suited to a motivated adult who has already put in time and effort into learning the subject. There seems to be little flexibility in terms of placing out of courses or otherwise fitting your coursework around your pre-existing skills. Even if I choose to just cherry pick classes without getting a degree, the course descriptions are extremely vague, so there’s no way to know what specifically they’re actually teaching until you actually register, and staff have just been terrible at answering my questions so far. The communication at both colleges is just consistently poor. They seem to have zero ability to think outside of the box and don’t even know how to talk to someone who isn’t some fresh faced 18 year old who doesn’t know anything about anything.

What I’d really like to do is just get a list of the books and assignments they have and just do it all myself, but of course they don’t list any of that information publicly. You have to register for the courses to get access to it. So, my question is, do you think it’s worth my money, and especially my time to try and pursue a degree, or even classes, at a community college? Or, would I be better off trying to find a mentor, watch YouTube videos, etc., and continue learning that way? If the latter, where is the best place to find a good mentor for 3D modeling and animation? I really want to make sure I don’t have any gaps in my skills that would prevent me from being hired. Thanks to anybody who can help, because I’m in a quandary.

1 Like

That actually sounds like a really good idea because it forces you to understand subd modelling and you would be hard pressed to find a Youtube video to rip off for assignments. There are no distractions in Wings3D, it’s pure modelling. Software should always be secondary to technique and what you’d learn in Wings3D is directly transferable to any other 3d software.

As for the rest of it. Higher education is about what you put into it. It’s not about passing, you should be using the assignments given to you as a basis for building a varied portfolio. You won’t get a job just by ticking the boxes presented to you regardless of the school.

That’s not an education. Youtube certainly has some good content, but it’s also got a lot of misinformation. Even the most popular of ‘educators’ on there have moments where they’re confidently full of shit.
See if your college provides access to a more reputable source such as fxphd, gnomon or cgsociety.

1 Like

I checked out cgsociety. It looks like they have their own courses. Community College definitely does not provide access to their stuff for free. It looks like something I’d be taking instead of CC classes. So, your recommendation seems to be more for online classes instead of a traditional education.

Often educational institutions will provide access to external sources of education that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive. It may be through an alternative educational access portal. Sometimes lecturers don’t do a good job publicizing such arrangements or, as is more often the case, students don’t read the resources they’ve been given.

No. My recommendation is to do the work presented to you by the college, but also do more than that. I don’t know you and I don’t know your college but it If you need someone to make you a list of learning materials, you’re not cut out for independent study because you don’t know the questions that need answers. The structure of a college course will tell you the questions.

1 Like

Wings3D is not antique. It is a fantastic modeling tool that I myself use as well. It is a contained modeling app, and it offers decent modeling tool set. You can learn Blender and Wings3d at the same time, they can compliment each other.

Wings3d as a choice of teaching 3d modeling is not a bad idea because it is modeling focused, grasping some of its tools is easier and learning it is a less daunting job than learning Blender or Maya.

1 Like

As someone who has taught at community colleges, in decades past when the (US …) tuitions were still reasonable, today I would say NO.

“Back in the day,” my wife paid just over $1,000 in tuition for her initial associates’ degree. Today, at the same institution, that degree would cost $195,000. At the local state university, the bachelor’s degree that a benevolent candy-company paid $13,000 for (since I was out of state), is matter-of-factly listed at $328,000. Which you can only afford by taking on student-loans that you are not permitted to discharge in bankruptcy.

Given that “a college” really consists of nothing more than classrooms, just like high school, do not allow yourself to get saddled with unconscionable debts which very obviously have no relationship at all to the actual cost of providing what you are buying. Just wait it out.

3 Likes

+

I’ve seen discussions in recent years about kids who live near schools just walking into classrooms and finding out the structure and getting that list of questions they can go find the answers to for free online. Oddly the Mexican kids who did this were never bothered but a few black, white and (very dark skinned) Indian kids were asked to prove they belonged within a few days of sneaking into classes.

1 Like

Well, the cost at the place I’m looking at is $8,000 total, so it’s not one of the super expensive ones. However, I still want to be sure I’m spending my money wisely. Someone else recommended online courses. What do you think of them?

I once had a job teaching at an “Art” school. They had more recruiters than teachers. The whole thing was set up to get student loan money. The students would take out the loans, the school gets the money and the students get stuck with the bill. Fortunately that school is out of business now.
Let’s say you take a class that is 3 credit hours. That’s usually 1 hour of lecture and may an hour or two of lab work. For a full 15 week semester that only ends up being about 40 hours. Or if you thought yourself that’s at 8 hours a day for a week. The hardest part about learning is not leaning but figuring out what you need to learn.
Save the money for courses that are hard to teach yourself like math and programming. before you take a class ask to see the syllabus for the class. That will give you an outline of what is going to be covered. if the first three hours are how to make a box and a doughnut in Blender skip it :slight_smile:

1 Like

Freak, the only way that we might be able to meaningfully assist you on this is if, first, we saw the syllabus of the college you’re considering. And second, if we better understood your professional goals. What do you think that you need to know, and why?

If you are “absolutely starting out and want a credential to give you credibility,” I’d suggest that you start by doing some investigation in your own home town. Somebody out there – that you might very much like to work for – is using CG right now and quite possibly might be using Blender. Ask for half an hour of their precious time and, if they give it to you, go in there and listen. Are they looking for a college degree?

Although I seriously object to the exorbitant costs that are being asked for “college education” right now in the USA, I do consider that “$8,000” might be a defensible price which you could probably cover using financial aid.

As someone who has actually taught in these institutions, I do recognize the value of in-person, goal-based instruction with hands-on labs. I did it, really, “because I wanted to give back.” My students were nearly all adults, and came from all walks of life. One of the people in my computer class was a PhD from the neighboring University who insisted that I call him “Alex” instead of “Dr. so-and-so.” All of them came to learn, not to get diplomas or certificates. “They kept me on my toes,” and I loved doing it.

As for myself, I am mostly self-taught – in my profession of computer software development as well as computer graphics. “It just worked out that way.” But I keenly recognize the value of classroom instruction and would therefore encourage you to very-systematically explore all options.

These days, one direction you could go in (if CG training does not work out) is to attend a trade school and get a job in areas like plumbing, electrical wiring, appliance/car repair ect… Those jobs are paying really well now because everyone wants a STEM career (which is leading to worker shortages).

No one can expect human society to be run by computer code, artwork, and video games, so you will be doing the modern world a huge favor as well. Besides that, the video game industry is so saturated now you would essentially be counting on “lightning in a bottle” to ensure financial stability (that is unless you were lucky enough to get a high ranking job with a billion dollar publisher).

1 Like

Even if you never get a job in these areas, knowing how to do some things yourself will save you tens of thousands of dollars over your lifetime. Just having friends from the classes who can do things for you later will save you more thousands.

I have a degree in computer science from NC State, but I haven’t used it in 20+ years, and I want to go into 3D modeling and animation (specifically character modeling). I don’t need credentials, because I already have a CSC degree and everybody tells me that the only thing that matters is your portfolio anyway. Mainly I just want something to round me out with a complete set of skills and no odd gaps from being self taught. If you like, I can post a example of a blender project I’ve done as an example of where I’m at right now. I’m looking at Wake Tech CC. Their course listings are online. It looks pretty comprehensive to me, but I’m not an industry pro and they’re actually kind of vague about the details of exactly what you’re learning in each class. I guess I could request syllabus’ for all the classes, but there’s so much red tape that I’m not sure I’ll be able to get that information before I’d have to register for classes in a week. It’s taken me weeks of back and forth emails just to get anybody to tell me what I need to do to transfer classes that I’m currently taking to Wake Tech.

Good advice, but I’ve actually worked in HVAC and I hate it with the passion of a thousand burning suns. I’m an indoor cat. Sweating buckets in 106F degree weather in someone’s cobweb infested attic (where it is more like 130F) is not for me. Also, I’m not especially good at it. I do better in environments where I can quickly and easily look up something if I forget it. If CG doesn’t work out, I’m more likely to try marketing, web development, or literally anything else.

@Freakazoid, these days many colleges post the syllabus of their courses on-line. These pages might not be “immediately public,” but the college admissions office can probably tell you the “back door” way to get to them. You certainly have a right to expect details about any training program that you intend to spend money on … I know that I had to submit a syllabus for the upcoming semester, along with a fairly detailed lesson plan, and “get the nod” of an academic committee within the department. Even though I was just adjunct.

1 Like

If a structured curriculum is your main need, then consider the online providers who offer this. CG Master Academy (CGMA) is now the training provider for CG Society, and they have several streams depending on your preferred specialty. Courses are mentored, so you submit assignments and get feedback. Fairly expensive though, but maybe comparable to a CC. LearnSquared also has streams and mentored courses, generally cheaper. These courses usually don’t use Blender however.

1 Like

Thanks, that’s a good tip. I’ll try to get ahold of the syllabi while I’m working on transferring classes.

Hi there

well I think I can speak from the inside - I am a professor in digital 3D design.

So community colleges, in general, are not bad. Even some Art schools can be good.
But the tricky part is knowing their focus.

Lot’s of Art schools in this country are for-profit degree factories - that’s just the truth.
Education in America is a product, unfortunately.

Community colleges can be pretty good but you need to be aware of where it is and what market it serves, tries to educate for. The syllabus is kinda pointless. One needs to see the student work. Then you get a better idea of if it is worth it.

Now because of the pandemic I teach exclusively online via youtube. so yeah my students watch videos and follow it. But the videos are specifically designed. That costs a lot of energy.

Community colleges do not pay really well - specifically for adjuncts. So I would not blame faculty - blame the way of education is “not” funding in America. Period.

At the university level you will be more able to find talented faculty. One could say well why go to class when I can learn via youtube.

True and that is the amazing part of today and also the field you want to get in.

You can learn it online - the material is there.

But the classroom experience, the community, the discussion is not something youtube can give you.
This forum could - I send students to forums a lot to exchange their knowledge.

I also agree wutg crazychristina - I have few graduated students who went to portfolio schools and later said that while informative it was not worth the money.

Another aspect to consider is also time. How fast can you learn yourself and how fast would a class room help you.

After all I had one 3D class in my whole life - but I also entered college already with existing knowledge and in Germany university means you study a lot yourself outside of class. Here it is more hands on. Each has their ups and downs.

I personally prefer more talking with students about their work during class and let them watch videos outside of class to build up their skill.

Thanks for that thoughtful response! I have a question for you, though. When you say the videos are “specifically designed,” does that mean you made them yourself or just that you curated them? One of my current teachers literally just assigns us YouTube videos to watch. I don’t mind that as much as I do the one who just gives us book assignments and literally doesn’t teach anything. I described earlier in the thread exactly what I hope to get out of college, but it basically boils down to “I want to be well rounded and make sure I don’t miss any skills that I would be expected to have in the industry.” I learn reasonably quickly and am capable of finding information on my own if I know what I should be looking for in the first place.

The videos I make myself. If there is a good external video I further suggest this as a reading.

The main reason, besides ethical, why I make my own videos is because only that way can I make sure the students learn what I want them to learn. I am very specific in detail and process.

Covid also finally allowed us to rethink how we teach. Is frontal teaching 3D still good? Isnt youtube better? My students think so.

I also teach in three areas CG, Industrial, and Interior Design and thus have a different insight than most others. And this insight I can only teach well through lectures or videos.

I was honestly always disappointed by the faculty I had for anything 3D-related. They were just not that good in what I wanted to learn. Every department/university has also a different focus or strength.

At a community college you will likely not find instructors who can prepare you for Pixar. If that is a goal one might want to apply to top schools for example CCA.

While Bowling Green State University in Ohio has a good art school the absence of painting and sketching skills among the students in digital arts was an indicator that while a good art school it cannot compete with something like animation at CCA.

That does not mean once graduating from BGSU one can not find a good job in 3D.

I do not want to sound pessimistic but I have a different take on education. I reject this American everybody can do everything. No. Plus the US has too many schools among other issues like tuition-related impact on academic quality.

With all that said, I do think that today (I studied 2000-2007 for my two degrees) with social media youtube and the internet access to knowledge is soo much better and richer. And truly can one develop great skills and perfect their work with sufficient dedication and talent.

I think communities like Blender or other mature 3D outlets are great places to exchange ideas get feedback and so forth.

Does it replace a class room? It will replace a bad class room yes - but at a very good school where also you have a pool of creative engaged students the community feeling and intellectual stimulation/exchange might be hard to replace.

On the otherside every bit of education can help. Even when the community college isn’t the top line there might still be useful insights to be gained from.

One also gets out what you put in and I found often faculty being frustrated by rather less motivated students and rather excited when there is a student that demands an intellectual exchange.

lol besides my students they always whine that I give them too much homework :wink: