Why Starting At Community College Is Better (And Why It’s Not)
The cost of higher education continues to rise — and financial aid isn’t keeping pace. According to a report from College Board, the grant aid to undergraduate students increased by an average of $1,020 between the 2011–12 academic year and the 2016–17 year. By contrast, tuition and fees plus room and board increased, on average, by $1,910 during that same period.
So, what can you do? You know it’s important to get an education and develop a marketable skill so you can compete in the workforce of the future. One solution many students overlook is starting at a community college.
As you think about whether to begin your college career at a two-year institution, consider the following pros and cons:
Pros of starting at a community college
You might be surprised at how helpful it can be to “start small.” Saving money is one of the biggest reasons to consider community college, but there are other advantages as well.
The biggest advantage to starting at a two-year college is the fact that you pay much less as compared to other institutions. The average per-credit cost at a two-year public school is $135 — less than half the $325 per credit at a four-year public school.
If you start at a two-year school, earning your general education credits or getting an associate’s degree, and completing half the credits usually needed for a four-year degree, you could save $10,000 or more, depending on where you attend school. In some states (like New Jersey and Illinois) opting to start at a community college could chop more than $20,000 off the total cost of a bachelor’s degree.
Increased flexibility and smaller classes
Community colleges are known for their flexible schedules. For instance, they often have a larger slate of night classes than many four-year universities, providing you more options if you need to work during the day.
It’s also a chance to explore different majors. What happens if you spend all that money on an expensive school only to switch majors, making some of your costly credits worthless? At a community college, the smaller financial risk gives you more freedom to explore and change your mind.
Plus, community colleges often have smaller classes. This means you get more attention from instructors — and better opportunities for mentorship.
Work opportunities with a two-year degree
When you finish your time at a community college with an associate’s degree, you have career options. In fact, you might even be able to land a job that pays reasonably well, depending on your educational track.
If you feel like you need to earn some money before transferring to a four-year school, the skills and education you receive at a community college can help. You boost your earning power quickly, and you can decide to go back to school later.
Chance to improve your grades
Perhaps you didn’t do quite as well as you could have during high school. If you want a chance to boost your grades, it’s possible to do so at a community college.
Standardized tests and your high school GPA don’t matter as much if you have a new track record from a two-year school. Prove yourself, and you have an opportunity to get scholarships and meet other requirements to transfer to a university.
Additionally, depending on where you attend school, you might be able to take advantage of special arrangements between in-state community colleges and universities.
Cons of starting at a community college
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, however. There are drawbacks to starting at a two-year institution. Here’s what you need to consider before moving forward:
In many cases, community colleges focus on specific job skills, such as hospitality management or automotive repair. If you know you’ll be following a liberal arts path, you might not find all the classes you need. Research ahead of time to find out what’s available at your school of choice.
Difficulty transferring some credits
When you go out of state, some of your credits might not translate as well to four-year universities elsewhere — especially if you didn’t complete an associate’s degree. You might have to retake some classes or test out of them. Additionally, there might be some limits to transfer scholarships.
Missed social opportunities
Finally, there can be missed social opportunities with community college attendance. Clubs, extracurricular activities, and forming bonds with your cohort might not happen as easily when you come in as an outsider part-way through your university experience.
When you attend a commuter school, you miss out on some of the traditional “college experiences” that come with on-campus living. Some two-year institutions lack the social clubs and school-sponsored activities that make up the fabric of four-year schools. Plus, you don’t have the dorm parties and study groups when you can’t live on campus.
Making your choice
Carefully weigh the pros and cons of community college. What type of experience do you want? Are you an engaged student who can stand out no matter the situation? Do you hope to reduce your reliance on student loans by starting small?
Prioritize what you want, and research what will help you accomplish your goals. In the end, your education is what you make of it. Depending on what you’re looking for, a community college can help you get a leg up in your education without breaking the bank.
You can read the full Forbes article by Andrew Josuweit here.