Community colleges are the Rodney Dangerfield of higher education – they don’t get any respect. This is truly unfortunate because attending one of these schools is an incredible way to knock out your first two years of college on the cheap (and possibly for free).
I very proudly attended a community college for my first two years and then transferred to another school to complete my bachelor’s degree. And I would totally do it again. I had an amazing experience at the community college I attended, and I still think fondly of my time there. Oh, and I saved a bundle of money, too.
If you’re thinking about skipping your local community college in favor of a four-year school, you might want to reconsider. There are many benefits of attending one of these schools that are worth checking out.
Here are 10 reasons to attend a community college:
Reasons to Attend a Community College
My entire academic career, both as a student and now as a professor, has been broken up among three types of colleges: the two-year community college, the expensive four-year university, and the four-year state school.
I personally saved almost $80,000 by spending my first two college years at a community college.
CareerDoneRight.com reports the average tuition prices for all types of schools and states that, with tuition and board, the average public, in-state school is priced at $18,943.
Maybe you’re lucky enough to be living at home, rent-free, during your college career. Even if you only consider the price of tuition at a state school, you’re still looking at $9,139 average. Private Universities average a $31,231 price tag for tuition, or over $40,000 when room and board are factored in.
Since most community colleges do not offer room and board, students at these schools need only look at the price of tuition itself: $3,347. Choosing to spend the first two years of your education at a two-year college will save you an average of $5,792 on tuition when compared to a four-year state school, and a whopping $27,884 when compared to a private university!
Clearly, you can save a lot of money by choosing the two-year community college. The best part: it’s not too late to start classes!
Not Sure About College?
It’s already the second week of August. Maybe you feel as though you missed your chance to start your college career, either because you were too busy, or couldn’t decide on a school to attend or even got rejected from your choice colleges. Most two-year colleges are open enrollment, which means you can enroll and register for classes even now!
Maybe you couldn’t decide what to do with your life, so chose to put college on hold for a little while. Most programs have the same prerequisites: math, English, science, and history. Taking your prerequisites at a two-year college ensures that you get the basics out of the way; you can then transfer these credits to the college and program of your choice later!*
*Note: You should be careful here; most colleges accept transfer credits, but there are a few courses that are not compatible with other schools. It’s always good to have an idea about where you want to go for your four-year degree, if that is something you want to pursue, so you can verify with an advisor which courses are in your best interest to take.
The Benefits of Community College
Many professors work at multiple schools, so you may be getting private school-level instruction for a fraction of the cost.
I teach students who pay under $400 to take my English classes and students who pay $20,000 each semester. For the most part, my English class is the same; differences exist only because each school has different learning objectives. However, I still grade with the same intensity across the board. I push my students the learn and perform at the same level on all assignments.
Most professors are more approachable at the community college level.
I say this from my own experience, and this statement is not based on facts. However, I have found that at the community college level the focus is on faculty engagement with students; most four-year colleges require that faculty members publish and research in addition to their teaching duties. This can make it difficult for them to have meaningful time with students.
There are perks for good grades. Serious perks.
Phi Theta Kappa, the international honors society of two-year colleges, has some fantastic financial perks for students who keep up high GPAs. These include society-only scholarships, discounts on products, and even reduced tuition at four-year colleges. You can also take on leadership roles in your school’s PTK chapter, making this an invaluable opportunity for boosting your resume and college engagement.
The two-year college atmosphere can’t be beaten.
I really enjoyed my time at the community college level, because I had the most interesting classmates: some were fresh out of high school, some took night classes after day jobs, some were mothers and fathers, some realized their jobs weren’t making them happy, and all of them were there for a purpose.
Last semester was the first time that my classroom was primarily made up of students under 25 years old. I had only two exceptions in the classroom of 26 – a huge change from last year, where nearly half of my students were working parents. It’s impossible to predict the classroom dynamics at this school, which makes it a fun peace to teach, and as a student means that you will likely find someone to connect to.
Othing Things to Consider
Of course, I urge you to consider whether college is something you need to do at all. There are many trade schools that provide hands-on job training that may be perfect for what you want to do in life.
Because most two-year colleges do not offer room and board, it’s likely that you will miss out on some of the “college experience” during your time here. For some people, that’s a blessing: more time to study, less pressure to party! For others, it feels as though high school is continuing, and may not be the atmosphere they want out of a college.
If you do think college is in your future, I recommend trying out a two-year college because of my own great experience there. Post-community college I chose to attend a private four-year university that did not offer any tuition discount for PTK members. I know, I know… it was foolish on my wallet. However, this was my dream school – I had decided I wanted to attend that particular school since I was a child. Because I spent my first two years of college at a community college, I saved almost $40,000 each year in tuition fees.
Even better: my entire community college transcript transferred to this school, with the exception of a math class. To remedy that, I took one more math course over the summer with the community college, paying less than 1/3 of the price I would have paid to take an additional math class at the four-year college.
While my situation may be unique to me, here are 10 top reasons to attend community college:
1. The Savings
One of the most obvious benefits of attending a community college is the low tuition. Compared to most schools, community colleges are a bargain.
Private schools may charge as much as $50k a year for tuition, fees, and room and board. State schools are much less, but it’s still not uncommon for the tab to hit $20k a year. You don’t have to be a math whiz to see how this can add up to a lot of money.
Community colleges, in comparison, are just a fraction of the cost. While the amount varies depending on which state you live in, the annual cost of attending a community college is typically no more than $6k.
There are now some states – like Tennessee, New York, Rhode Island, and Oregon – that no longer charge tuition at their community colleges for the majority of their residents. Other states are considering doing the same.
Even if you don’t currently live in a state with free community colleges, you may still be able to attend one of these schools for free (or nearly free) if you qualify for the PELL Grant. This is a need-based grant from the federal government for tuition, books, and other expenses. It does not have to be repaid like a student loan.
2. Stay Close to Home
Most community colleges are commuter schools and do not have any student housing. They are intended to be schools for those living within certain geographic areas.
Attending a community college allows you to stay close to home while attending college. This lets you save big on room and board. It also means you won’t have to radically alter your life to get an education. Moving can be expensive, and having to adjust to a new place can sometimes be challenging.
3. Flexible Classes
Many of the degree and certificate programs community colleges offer are designed for those who are already in the job market. Because of this, they offer many classes during times that are convenient for working professionals – like the evenings and weekends.
Most community colleges also offer many classes entirely online. Online classes are extremely flexible and give you the ability to work on assignments during times that are convenient for you, instead of on a rigid schedule. By taking classes online, you can also skip the commute, save money on gas, and avoid the hassles of fighting traffic and looking for a place to park.
Flexible class times are also ideal for those who either want or need to work while taking classes. Having scheduling flexibility allows you to continue living your life without having to make major adjustments for school.
4. Many Faculty Are Experienced Professionals
You may be surprised to learn that many professors at large colleges and universities have very little professional experience in the subjects they teach. This isn’t always the case, of course, but many who end up working in academia went straight into the profession after completing their formal educations.
Faculty at community colleges are different. Many have significant work experience. There are some professionals who teach at community colleges as a side gig because they enjoy sharing their knowledge and expertise. They do it for the love of teaching.
Just a few examples of professionals you may encounter teaching at community colleges include nurse practitioners, CPAs, attorneys, business executives, entrepreneurs, and many others.
Experienced professionals who teach at community colleges can offer practical insights and perspectives on the subjects they teach that tenured professors at other schools may not have. Who would you rather learn from: faculty who work in the trenches of the subjects they teach on a regular basis or faculty who live in the world of the theoretical? Experience matters.
5. The Faculty Are Focused on Teaching
You may be surprised to learn that many of the tenured faculty at large universities don’t do that much teaching. Yes, they may teach a couple of classes a semester, but they actually spend the majority of their time conducting research.
Who then is doing the teaching at these schools? Many undergraduate classes at large universities are actually taught by people who are working on their PhDs. Technically, these classes are being taught by people with master’s degrees, the same as you typically find at community colleges.
Why then should you pay exorbitant tuition to take classes taught by faculty who are paying their dues to earn their PhDs?
Darned good question.
The faculty at community colleges are not required to engage in any research. They might have some student advising duties, but other than that they are primarily there to teach.
6. Personalized Attention
If you attend a large university, it may not always be easy to get help if you need it. You may be required to make an appointment just to talk with an instructor. Or you may just get lost in the crowd, just another nameless face in a sea of students.
Things are different at community colleges. The class sizes are usually very small, and classes of 20 to 30 students are not uncommon. This makes it very easy to ask questions in class and engage in discussions. Don’t be surprised if your community college instructors even remember your name. Imagine that!
It’s usually very easy to talk to an instructor or advisor if you need to at a community college. Their offices are usually easy to find and many have open door policies.
7. Transfer Agreements
Many community colleges have formal transfer agreements that guarantee admissions to four-year schools if you graduate from the community college with a minimum GPA. A transfer agreement is essentially a backdoor to being admitted into a great school without having to earn a high score on the ACT or SAT, submit letters of recommendation, write essays, and all of that other fun stuff.
In Virginia, where I live, the community college system currently has formal transfer agreements with over 30 colleges and universities including the College of William & Mary, Virginia Tech, and the University of Virginia.
8. Excellent Support Services
Community colleges typically have excellent support services to ensure your success including academic advising, career planning, free tutoring, study skills workshops, and others. Students are encouraged to take advantage of these services as needed. Some community colleges even offer childcare services so you can take care of your studies without worrying about taking care of your child.
9. Gives You Time to Think About Your Major
Are you unsure of your major? If so, going to an expensive four-year school and taking a bunch of courses is not the way to find yourself. If you don’t have a plan, you could very easily end up deep in debt and still not know which direction in life you want to go.
If you attend a community college for your first two years, you can concentrate on the general education requirements that are common in most four-year degree programs. This allows you to be exposed to some new ideas and concepts while avoiding debt.
10. Earn a Two-Year Degree in a Career
Here’s a shocking truth you really should think about: There are many two-year degree programs offered at community colleges that lead to careers that pay much better than those that require four-year degrees.
I kid you not.
We no longer live in a society where you can major in anything and end up doing well for yourself. What you major in really does matter. Sadly, many degree programs offered at four-year schools don’t lead to much of anything.
Community colleges offer many certificate and degree programs in careers that pay very well. Potentially lucrative programs are typically offered in the health sciences, business, technology, and in various trades like welding, plumbing, masonry, and others.
Why Community Colleges Are Good for You
Community colleges deserve far more respect than they get. And for many, they make more sense than attending pricey four-year schools.
Before you write off your local community college, consider the many benefits of attending one of these affordable schools. Talk to a school representative. Find out which schools it has transfer agreements with. Visit the school and take a tour.
After carefully considering the many benefits of attending a community college, you might just come to the conclusion that attending one of these schools is the right choice for you – the smart choice.
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