With college costs rising and student debt rising, students and their parents need to think about ways to reduce the overall cost of higher education.
Even if a student wants to attend a four-year college, starting at a two-year college can conservatively lead to five-digit savings. Students who choose not to get a bachelor’s degree can earn an associate’s degree with less time and money than at a traditional public university.
Whether a student’s goal is to get a career started as soon as possible or get a bachelor’s degree and beyond, using community college to save money and move forward can be a smart move. In fact, going to a two-year college can be the most widely used method of cutting costs while gaining an educational edge.
How Much Can Community College Students Save?
Community college students have three financial advantages over students who spend every four years at university.
Lower tuition fees
The average cost to attend a state community college is $ 3,770. according to the university council. That’s nearly $ 6,800 in savings compared to tuition at a typical public university ($ 10,560). Multiplied over two years, community college students save more than $ 13,000 in the first two years.
Lower cost of living
Both community college and university students have variable cost of living, but community college students may have more options to save. Many community college students will live with their parents or family members during school hours. In addition, some of the “luxury expenses” associated with university attendance can be reduced. For example, you may not pay to eat out if you can cook at home. Or, you can avoid expensive spring break trips when most of your classmates have to work just like you.
Increased opportunities to make money
Community colleges work with many nontraditional students, including adult students who have full-time jobs. Attending a school that is used to working hours is important if you want to do one or more jobs while you are in school. According to the Community College Research Center (CCRC), 80% of all two-year college students work while in school.
Of course, your circumstances cannot allow you to take advantage of all of these savings and income opportunities. You may have to pay most of your living expenses or have obligations that prevent you from working full-time.
But even the lower tuition fees will help most students save over $ 13,000 compared to college students. Additionally, students from lower-income families may be able to cover all of their school expenses with a Pell grant or even local scholarships.
Do Community Colleges Offer Solid Education?
While most students starting out at community college choose to move to four-year school after graduation, only about a third of community college students move within six years of starting, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. While that’s only a small percentage, it doesn’t mean that community college is an inferior education.
Four-year universities boast world-class facilities and faculties. But freshman and sophomores at these schools are still focused on the basics. Most community colleges have highly qualified faculty who can prepare students for advanced courses. In many cases, two-year college students have more personal attention with a qualified professor than university students taking stadium-style courses.
Community college is not just about “dropping a few classes”. Your education should be of high quality and you can expect many excellent opportunities. In fact, half of all bachelor’s degree graduates attended two-year school at some point in the past decade.
In addition to the inexpensive “Bachelor preparation”, many two-year schools offer vocational training. Some community college students may find they want to work in crafts during their school years. In these cases, an associate degree is sufficient to start your career.
Which states offer free community college?
Community college is already very affordable compared to the cost of a four year school. But many states are making community college even more accessible.
There are currently programs in 20 states that offset tuition costs. In many cases, these scholarships ensure that low-income students receive free tuition at a two-year college (in combination with other forms of financial support).
Most of these programs (see below) use family income to determine eligibility. However, some have additional requirements, e.g. B. the location of the school you will be attending.
Community college as a high schooler
High school students have traditionally been encouraged to take AP classes to advance through high school. However, dual enrollment in a local two-year college may be better to help students earn high school and college credits at the same time.
Many states offer free Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) or other dual enrollment options that allow high school senior students to attend high school and college at the same time. In the 2017-2018 school year, 82% of public high schools some students enrolled in dual enrollment programs under the CCRC.
Being able to tackle the academic demands of a community college can be the ultimate way to save money.
Moved from a community college
Two-year college students seeking a bachelor’s degree need to plan ahead. Each school has different eligibility criteria for the transfer. Students must work with their current school and future school to maximize the likelihood of receiving course credit when they move. This can discourage them from repeating coursework and extending their study time.
Most state universities have explicit transfer agreements with the two-year universities in their state. This makes it relatively easy for students to switch to the “flagship” university in their state when they are accepted into the school. For example, in the University of California’s school system, 92% of transfers come from California community colleges.
If you are considering moving to a flagship school, you should review the minimum requirements for moving during your freshman year at Community College. You don’t want to get caught without the minimum requirements.
Additionally, most students should consider honoring coursework and taking on campus leadership roles to improve their prospects for admission. Elite flagship schools generally have difficult admission criteria. Potential transfer students also need to consider the strength of their application during their years at a community college.
Elite private schools
Elite private schools generally accept far fewer transfer students than public flagship schools. Princeton, Harvard, and Stanford, for example, accept less than 1% of all transfer students.
As a community college student, hoping to attend one of these schools puts you at a disadvantage. However, you shouldn’t rule them out entirely if you’re an excellent student with an otherwise strong application. Depending on the school’s rules, you may only be able to be admitted as a freshman, but your credits may qualify for enrollment.
If one of these elite schools is your heart, ask specific questions of an admissions advisor. These counselors, along with financial aid specialists, can help you understand whether school is a realistic (and affordable) option.
State colleges and universities
Just like flagship universities, most public colleges and universities have robust transfer programs. Three-quarters of all community college students who move to four-year school transfer to a public state university.
As a transfer student, you should be able to avoid grade repetitions as long as you plan in advance. Many two-year colleges have college prep degrees, so take advantage of those during your year or two at community colleges. Also, speak to your educational advisor to get their opinion.
Schools specializing in transfer students
Many public four-year schools specialize in adult return and transfer from community colleges. For example, Western Governors University has a generous transfer policy so that most students will not have to repeat courses after the transfer.
Full-time workers should definitely consider public colleges specifically geared towards transfer students.
Tuition fees are increasing. But community college enables many families to combat these high costs without running into debt or compromising the quality of education. Students who later earn a bachelor’s degree do not have a “watered down” degree when they first attend community college.
Those who choose to leave school with an associate degree will both save money and have proof of it. Unless you and your student have a specific plan to avoid student loan debt, a local community college should establish your “priority” school list. The considerable savings are worthwhile for almost all students.
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