Thankfully, I find that most of the community colleges here (from speaking to students) have a fairly good level of equipment, but... you are 100% correct: they will cater to the lowest common denominator. Unfortunately, they have to. But for a complete newcomer they may not be that bad - if for nothing more than to have a place learn the very basics while you try more advanced things on your own. Its always a crap shoot - how good the level of instruction is, class size, etc. But generally, in a beginner's case, it will be a person who knows a lot more than you do, and who's job it is to answer your questions.
Its really too bad you had such a mediocre (at best - by the sounds of it!) experience with your class - but I find that yours may be the exception rather the rule.
I have been developing fim and printing for a while when I found APUG - and I was overwhelmed by the amount of things I found here that I didn't have a clue about! Fortunately, most people here are absolutely awesome - and they will explain if you ask! The coolest photo lovers hang out I found thus far and by far!
Oh, and Jay:
While I agree with what you said to a large extent - the weeding out of misinfo gets easier the more you know... at the very beginning it can get quite daunting. Fortunately, I found that its easier here than most places, simply because of the calibre of people that this site seems to attract. In fact, its rarely necessary at all if you ask from a beginners stand point.
Crap - I got all long winded there