To college hopefuls, the financial burden it represents can be daunting. However, community colleges offer multiple money-saving opportunities while still allowing you to earn an education.
Tuition is perhaps the most immediate money-saving benefit of applying to a community college rather than a larger four-year university. Hocking College lists the average cost of tuition and fees at a four-year university as follows: One year at a private school runs an average of $33,480, and one year for in-state residents at public schools runs an average of $9,650. Comparatively, community college costs an average of $4,900 per year for public institutions and $15,478 per year for private institutions. Hocking College notes that community colleges only require two years of schooling while traditional colleges require four. As such, the price difference becomes far more pronounced when multiplied.
Room and board savings
Another source of savings, as pointed out by The Princeton Review, is room and board. Because there is a community college located within 90 percent of U.S. residents’ commuting distances, this allows students to continue to live at home while they complete their degrees.
Community college students often take classes part-time while keeping their job. This allows the chance to save up money or pay for classes going forward. Hocking College says that this could be an especially good choice for nontraditional students, such as parents or older students, who simply don’t have the ability to take full-time classes.
Even if the student is not of a nontraditional group, community college degrees are only two-year degrees. This means that students can go into the workforce in half the time it would take attending a four-year school, giving them a head start in the workforce.
The 2+2 plan
Community college can also help students whose ultimate goal is to complete a bachelor’s degree at a four-year institution. The method for doing so is often referred to as the “2+2 plan.”
The plan involves taking advantage of the above sources of savings for two years at a community college before transferring the credits to a larger university to complete a degree. According to U.S. News, many community colleges offer agreements that ensure student credits will transfer to certain four-year schools. It described the situation in Massachusetts, where community college graduates with a GPA of at least 2.5 can transfer all credits, guaranteed, to any state university by using the Joint Admissions or MassTransfer programs.
In theory, this academic plan could result in a significant savings when pursuing a bachelor’s degree. However, both U.S. News and Dr. Robert Ronstadt, a former vice president of Boston University writing for Forbes, offer warnings about the 2+2 plan.
U.S. News says that not all four-year institutions accept credits from all community colleges, so students should speak to advisors at both schools to make sure that transfer credits are accepted, and under what circumstances they are accepted.
Dr. Ronstadt says that the 2+2 plan can also lead to trouble if it isn’t completed properly. The problem, he says, is that to achieve the savings promised by the 2+2 plan, students absolutely must graduate in the implied four years. If classes at the larger university prove to be difficult or not enough credits transfer, causing the student to take 3 or 4 years at the second school, the savings from the two years in a community college are swiftly consumed. In addition, to successfully complete the 2+2 plan the student needs to be a full-time student at the community college, which could put an overwhelming burden on students who need to work to pay expenses, potentially causing schoolwork to suffer and jeopardizing the transfer to the four-year school.
Overall, community college can definitely save students money due to lower cost of tuition, convenience of location and the option to work while taking classes. Whether the student then uses these boosts to transfer to a bachelor’s program at a four-year school or to graduate and enter the workforce is up to them.