In an attempt to make college (which is an essential step for most young adults entering the career field) more affordable for everyone, President Obama recently announced his proposal of joint federal and state-funded community college tuition.
While the details are still under wraps, the program is loosely based on a current program in Tennessee that requires students to meet minimum GPAs and fulfill community involvement hours. While this could create better opportunities for students burdened with loan debt, it would also mean further government spending (read: more tax dollar spending).
Could paying for students’ tuition at a community college really help them graduate with a four-year degree and find well-paying, stable jobs?
While considering this question, let’s discuss the advantages and potential disadvantages of attending a community college versus a university.
Advantages of Attending Community College
Community college tuition is cheaper. Tuition at community colleges is at least half the price of most universities and private colleges. This is the biggest draw for students who want to save money, while completing general education credits, before transferring to a larger college to finish their degree.
Community college is the preferred option for some degrees. For those interested in technology, trade, and service-related fields, community college is often all that’s necessary. Why spend more money at a university when you can get when you need for a fraction of the cost?
Community college eliminates the need for housing. Living on campus or renting near the university campus can add thousands of dollars to your student loans. Even if you, or your child, want to get a degree from a particular university, choosing to attend a community college for a few years while living locally represents tremendous savings.
Disadvantages of Attending Community College
Credits from a community college don’t always transfer. Unfortunately, because community colleges aren’t as accredited as universities and traditional colleges, their credits aren’t always compatible with other institutions. Some universities only give partial credits, while others will not accept them at all. It’s important to find out if your community college’s credits will transfer before you spend time and money.
Transferring can a make your degree take longer to complete. Because of incompatibility between credits from a community college and degree requirements from another college, your four-year degree could end up stretching into five or more years. Financially, this means more years of student loans, while being unable to earn higher income. If you want to take advantage of the savings of community college without sacrificing another year of school, consider attending only one year before transferring, and checking your degree requirements carefully so you know which classes to take.
Textbook costs are the same. Textbooks cost the same wherever you attend college, and this is an expensive cost many students fail to consider. It’s uncertain whether the President’s program will include textbook expenses, but the best way to save is to never buy new. Shop for used copies in the campus library, online, or from other students — and whenever possible, opt for electronic versions of course materials.
Before Deciding on Community College
Deciding to attend a community college as part of a plan to complete your four-year degree is, at first glance, a great step for your finances.
But if you fail to consider your ultimate goal, or don’t research your credits transferability, you may end up wasting both time and money on credits you can’t use.
Consider all the pros and cons when deciding whether community college is a good financial and life choice for you.
Are you or your child considering community college? What are some of the pros and cons you’ve listed before making the final choice?