There’s no question that a college education is expensive.
The average tuition for a year at a public four- year university for in-state students is over $9,000 per year; that figure more than doubles for those students coming from out of state. At private universities, the bill is even higher, with the average tuition coming in at just over $31,000 per year. Add on the costs of room and board, fees, books, and other expenses, and the average student can expect to shell out at least six figures for their degree.
With the cost of college so high, and student loan debt reaching astronomical amounts, some students are questioning the value of college altogether.
The job market is still tight for new grads, and many find that the jobs they do land don’t pay nearly enough to cover their student loans and other expenses. However, the prevailing sentiment is still that college is vital, if one wants to have a successful career.
Although the lowest percentage since 2003, 65.9 percent of high school students enrolled in college in 2014; the highest percentage of enrolled high school students was 70, in 2009.
There are a number of factors influencing students’ enrollment in college, and perhaps the most important influence is the ability to pay for it. Reluctant to start out saddled with debt, many students are seeking alternatives to the typical path. One trend gaining traction is community college.
Why Community College
Two-year community colleges are often considered little more than technical or career preparation schools, as they grant associate’s degrees, certificates, or diplomas that allow students to work in entry-level jobs, often in the trades. The purpose, and student mix, at community colleges is changing, though. A growing number of students are attending community college with the intent of transferring to a university after graduation to complete their bachelor’s degrees. As a result, many community colleges are changing their focus, offering more challenging programs, and seeing student enrollment increase.
Attending a community college for two years has a number of benefits:
- Lower Cost. The greatest advantage for many students is the reduced cost of a community college education. Average annual tuition at a local community college is about $3,000, about a third of the typical university bill. For less than the cost of one year at university, students can complete two years at community college.
- Prerequisite Completion. Most students who attend community college intending to transfer focus on completing general studies and prerequisite courses. Why spend upwards of $1,000 to take a college writing course when you can complete similar coursework for less than $300 at the community college?
- Automatic Credit Transfer. While some private universities may not accept all of your community college credits when you transfer (and you should confirm the requirements before you enroll), in some states students who complete two years at a local community college are guaranteed admission with full credit transfer to any state university. This can save you time and money.
- Smaller Class Sizes. Depending on your university, the typical introductory course can have anywhere from a few dozen to several hundred students. While many universities are committed to reducing class sizes, it’s still common to find 101 classes that are large lectures — and taught by graduate students. Community college classes tend to be smaller (25 students or less) and are taught by master’s level or higher instructors, or experienced leaders in the field. You will receive a good education at community college.
- Transcript Improvement. Didn’t do so well in high school? Community college is a chance to shine and show that you’re capable of college-level work. When you do apply to a four-year school, your college-level transcript will be weighted more heavily than your high school work, and you have a better chance of getting in.
- Time for Exploration. The majority of college students head off to school not knowing what they want to do, and more than half change their majors at least once. By spending some time at a community college, you can explore your interests and goals without spending a fortune, and head off to university with a better idea of what you want to study and why.
If you are worried about paying for college, spending a few years at a community college can help keep costs down and help you get more out of your educational endeavors. If you treat your courses as you would at any other school, and take the most challenging classes you can, you’ll be well on your way to a full degree — and less debt when you’re done.