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June 18, 2015

Community College: Same education, more money in your pocket

Education Community College

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Students Studying File Art/Camden County College

A group of students studying.

There are a score of reasons for choosing a community college in order to prepare for a job, or to transfer for a four-year bachelor’s degree - but few can dispute that the primary attraction of community college is financial. Plain and simple, at a quality community college, you are getting virtually the same education as at most four-year colleges, for a much smaller outlay of cash.

Here’s the story in hard economic terms.

Tuition 

According to the American Association of Community Colleges, combined tuition and fees at most community colleges are about half of what you’d pay at a four-year state college or university, and, almost incredibly, about one-tenth of what you’d pay at an elite four-year private college. With the cost of private post-secondary education rising annually, this is a bottom-line fact that can’t be ignored.

Housing

A good estimate of what the average four-year college student pays for dorm housing on-campus is about $10,000 per year - that’s over $800 per month. When you attend a community college in your area, that’s simply not a line-item on your budget. You’re living at home and commuting a short distance, so gas money is about all you’ll need. On- or off-campus housing costs don’t even enter the picture.

Faculty

Academic posts are hard to come by these days, either at the professor, associate professor, assistant professor or instructor level. Fortunately, most community college teaching faculties are made up of truly top-notch educators. Often, university faculty members or working professionals also teach a course or two at the community college while maintaining their full-time positions. Think of it this way: a student at a private college is very possibly paying 10 times what you’re paying at the community college for the wisdom, expertise and experience of the same professor.

Maintaining an income

A reality of college education at a state or private four-year institution is that, for the four years you’re in school, you don’t have much of an income. That usually isn’t true at a community college, where most students work at least part-time, and some work full-time. The flexible schedule of evening, weekend, and on-line classes that most community colleges offer is designed to make that possible.

Goodbye massive student loans

The Institute for College Access and Success reported that American college students now leave school with an average of $30,000 in student-loan debt – and many with far more. For those beginning a career or going on to graduate school, starting $30K in the hole is a daunting and discouraging reality. Add to that the fact that student-loan debt -- as financial planning guru Suze Orman is fond of pointing out -- is the one area of debt that bankruptcy does not excuse. Even if you need student loans for community college, spending the first two years of your four-year degree at that community college will cut your student loan debt virtually in half, at a minimum.

Save money for your major

Many four-year-degree-track students see an additional perk in spending the first two years at a community college. For most college students, the freshman and sophomore years are made up largely of standard “required” courses, from freshman composition to humanities-survey courses. Doesn’t it make sense to pay less to take those “basic” courses -- and save your money for junior and senior years at a four-year institution after you’ve declared your major? That way, you’re spending the money where it does the most good -- for the courses in your major that will actually shape your postgraduate career track.

These days, the sheer cost of higher education has many students considering the countless reasons, economic and otherwise, why a local community college simply makes good common sense – for more students than ever before.