Are Community Colleges a Good Value?

Sara Lindberg Updated on April 25, 2018

Believe it or not, the average student leaves college with student loan debt hovering around $37,700.

Yikes, right? But what if you’re eager to get started on this next phase of your life, yet you’re scared of racking up a ton of debt?

If this sounds like you, why not consider attending a community college for the first two years? 

Community colleges, also known as junior colleges, can offer you a quality education — but at the fraction of the cost. Here are some highlights of what a community college has to offer:

  • An associate’s degree that typically takes two years to complete. These degrees can be general, such as an arts and sciences focus or specific to the program you will be studying, such as a pre-engineering focus.  
  • Credits you can transfer to a four-year school to complete your program of study. You will be taking pre-requisites and other classes that help you work towards your major.
  • In some cases, a four-year degree you can complete right on the community college campus.

Are community colleges a good value?

They may cost less, but does that mean community colleges a good value? Community college tuition is usually thousands of dollars cheaper than what you will pay at a four-year public or private school.

In fact, the College Board published the following average yearly amount for tuition and fees:

 Public two-year college (community college) $3,440

Public four-year college (in-state students) $9,410

Public four-year college (out-of-state students) $23,890

Private four-year college $32,410

Remember, this is only tuition and fees. These figures do not take into account room and board, travel expenses, spending money, etc..

In case you’re a bit skeptical of this “value” consider this: most of the courses you will take in the first two years of college are the same, regardless of where you go.

Still skeptical? Try this quick comparison. Print out the list of required classes for your freshman and sophomore year from the local community college and the four-year university you’re considering. Look for the similarities. 

Likely, what you will find are the same classes on both lists. For example, English 101 is standard for the freshman year. And most (if not all) programs require 100 and 200 level math, science, and psych/sociology, classes—all of which can be taken at a community college, for a fraction of the cost.

But you don’t just save when it comes to tuition. By living at home, you can also save on room and board, plus any travel expenses you may incur. 

Since there are typically fewer distractions when you live at home, you may even be able to work while going to school. 

The money you make can be put in a savings account earmarked for college, which means less debt from student loans when you graduate. 

See also: How Much is the Average College Tuition?

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Do community college credits transfer?

The big question surrounding the decision to go to a community college is this: do community college credits transfer to a four-year university? 

The answer: yes, but it depends on the classes you plan on taking.

If you want to ensure that your credits transfer to the university you plan on applying to, then there are some important steps you need to take. 

First, don’t just randomly choose classes that sound like fun. While this may make your first quarter of college a breeze, it won’t necessarily help you fulfill the requirements you need to transfer. 

Make an appointment with the transfer specialist at your community college. They can help you plan the courses you will take and make sure they transfer to the university you want to attend. 

 You can even take this one step further and connect with the admissions office at the university you will be applying to. 

 

Ask them to double-check the courses you plan on taking at the community college. Just like the transfer specialist you initially met with, the admissions officer at the university will be able to tell you if your credits will transfer to their system. 

If you're a worrier or you just like to stay on top of things, consider doing this each quarter. You can make an appointment with the transfer specialist a week prior to registration (for the following quarter) and review your credits. 

At this point, you might be wondering if there is a maximum number of credits that you can transfer.

Typically, the number of credits you can transfer depends on the program/degree and the university you are applying to. 

The number of credits required to complete an associate’s degree at a community college is anywhere between 60 and 90 credits.  

Earn a four-year degree on the community college campus

Just in case you need one more reason to consider going to a community college, there’s this: a number of community colleges are now offering four-year degrees right on their campuses. 

Through partnerships with universities, you can earn a college degree without leaving home. 

Yes, there are pros and cons to choosing a community college for your first two-years of education. But for many students, this option means they will be able to pursue a four-year degree without taking on a massive pile of student loan debt. 

See also: Decision Day is Approaching — How to Decide When You Can’t Decide

Published in: How to Pay for College

About the Author
Sara Lindberg

Sara Lindberg, B.S., M.Ed., is a freelance writer specializing in business, finance, health, and wellness. She holds a Bachelor's of Science degree in Exercise Science and a Master's Degree in Counseling. When she’s not writing, Sara can be found at the gym lifting weights, running the back roads to train for her next half-marathon, and spending time with her husband and two children. Read more by Sara Lindberg

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