More students are cutting the cost of college by going to community college first. I will explain how this is being done and some things not widely known – but valuable for all families.
Who on this earth likes the idea of saving money?
Whether you have thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars the idea of saving $20 thousand to $100 thousand dollars for an undergraduate degree should be appealing.
As a father of a high school and middle school student I am interested in learning how to be able to retire without having to live in a trailer down by the river AND get my two sons through college and jump started in their lives on good ground.
What I am happy to report today is that students looking to reduce the total cost of college and resulting college education debt can save thousands of dollars by going to community college first.
And in many major cities with a solid community college presence with high school matriculation agreements, it is even possible for high school students to earn their two-year Associates degree while still in high school.
That’s right, they can graduate with their high school class AND have 60 hours of college credits in the bank.
Now we are talking.
This is absolutely no joke.
In the state of North Carolina, for example, there are agreements in place with the many community colleges in the state that permits high school students to take college classes (at the local community college campus or virtually online).
These college level classes count toward the high school diploma and begin the college transcript. Students can choose to take one, a few, or as many as they can fit in their Junior and Senior years of high school.
WITHOUT HAVING TO PAY ONE CENT of college tuition costs.
Not one cent for tuition.
Did I get your attention yet?
There are some parents who dislike the idea of their child attending community college, but I think everyone can understand and appreciate that free college is a pretty neat concept.
For those high climbers obsessed with class rank, not only do the grades count as much as the high quality point classes in the rigorous high school AP and IB programs, but these classes do not require testing to qualify as college credits. The public Universities of North Carolina have already declared these classes to be transferable to their institutions.
I am just getting started.
It gets better.
What if I was also to ask you if you would be interested in dramatically improving the odds of acceptance to a highly selective university by going through community college first?
If you have at least 30 credit hours you can apply as a sophomore and not have to fight the highly competitive battles of the freshman college entry as you can transfer in as a sophomore.
Do you understand what I am saying?
Say that University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill only accepts three out of every ten students from the more than thirty thousand freshman applications each year. If you apply as a transfer student your high school transcript does not matter, as it does not reflect or count in the ever critical metrics of the incoming freshman class that affects college rankings.
This means that if your son or daughter are NOT in the top ten percent of their class, did not do ten different activities, was not student body president, senior class present, or earth club president – BUT if they took community college classes and performed well – then they have a great chance of getting admitted into the UNC public university system.
This is common in all states throughout the US.
Pretty cool isn’t it?
Let me be clear.
College degrees matter.
Higher education has proven over time to be the one thing that enables people to achieve career opportunities and make career advancements. Experience matters for certain.
But the foundational undergraduate degree and follow up degrees are what accelerates and puts people into position to out-earn, out-qualify, the next person in this dog eat dog world.
Top 4 Reasons That Community College Is The Right Decision
# 1 Reason – Cost
In a September 12, 2016 Wall Street Journal article written by Jillian Berman it states that the average annual tuition at a two-year public college was $3,435, compared with over eight thousand dollars for a four-year public university. And that is only speaking about tuition costs.
The actual total costs of four-year public university residential programs with expected spending and allowance easily pushes the total cost of college to well over twenty thousand dollars annually.
And remember, if you are in a state that allows high school students to take college level classes at the local community college then you can have FREE college classes.
I heard once on a radio commercial referring to a special mortgage refinancing opportunity as “the biggest no brainer on the face of the earth.”
I feel that high school students participating in community college classes is a no brainer for students that meet the qualifications and are up to the rigor of college level courses.
The minimum North Carolina college qualification requirements for high school students are:
- juniors in high school
- have a 3.0 minimum GPA for the transfer track (or 2.6 for any of the technical tracks)
- have minimum test score requirements (on the PSAT or PACT)
Community college is a smart path to a four-year college degree and smart alternative for:
- students that do not qualify for strict four-year freshman admission standards
- students who require student loans to attend college (family unable to pay the way)
#2 Reason – Reduced College Debt
Financial “fit” is a big piece of the college selection criteria. Students attending community college often live at home and do not have to pay resident living costs while attending school.
This is a huge financial savings and something to be considered.
The actual total cost of community college is much lower than four-year university rates.
It is quite possible to save as much as twenty thousand to one hundred thousand dollars. This translates into reduced college debt for the parents or students.
#3 Reason – Easier Entry to a 4-year Institution
If a student can attend community college and complete their associates degree with good grades in those college classes, then transferring in to a four-year university is doable.
The college transcript will qualify the student as having earned their bachelor’s degree from the four-year university.
One key is to be sure to have a plan. If you are going to attend community college, you will need to be sure you are taking the right classes, getting the right grades, and then applying to the right colleges with clear objectives.
It makes sense to have conversations with the targeted four-year school admissions staff to verify the classes required, the class transfer eligibility rules, and entrance requirements. It is important to be sure that you are aligned with the proper expectations.
Most states have clearly defined transfer rules and what classes count toward four-year degrees at all the public universities.
It is also wise to have conversations with any private universities about their rules and transfer allowances and requirements so you do not find out surprises later.
#4 Reason – Allows More Time For The What Do I want To Be When I Grow Up Decision
Community college may make sense for:
- students unsure what they want to be when they grow up
- students not in the top ten percent of their class
- students who do not qualify for merit aid
- students generally that are uncertain about their future
What are the alternatives?
- join the military
- get a low paying blue collar job
- take a gap year
Those may not be a good plan unless they are the path that leads you where you want to be.
It should be noted that Community colleges offer some great vocational tracks (often more than fifty) in addition to four-year university transfer paths that are prearranged with the in-state public university school system.
Statistics show that students that start out at community college take far longer to graduate from college with a degree than students who start at the four-year school. This is often because students are not focused, are not following a plan, and generally unsure of what to do next. They may also be working part-time jobs and this extends the time it takes to complete school.
It should be noted too that drop out rates are high at four-year schools and graduation rates at four-year schools have been increasing to more like six to seven years. That equates to an even higher cost of that four-year degree.
It makes sense to have a plan and work the plan and financially it makes sense to start at community college, especially if available while a high school student.
Starting in community college allows flexibility to travel, intern, work and learn about different trades or career alternatives.
You may even decide to continue on a vocational or technical pathway at the community college and get a starting salary of forty thousand or more with benefits and a great career track.
It is an “it all depends” scenario but I think everyone will agree that NO student should start out life in fifty, one hundred, two hundred thousand dollars in debt for an undergraduate degree.
Check out these clips about students strapped with high student loan debt that could have been avoided with a different approach to getting their four-year degree:
300k in Student Loan Debt (wife Doctorate in Physical Therapy, husband Masters in Environmental Science)
225k in Student Loan Debt (Private law school for both husband and wife)
175k in Student Loans to be a teacher (to attend out of state college and play division one water polo)
The key is to do your research, make a plan, and work your plan.
Remember to be awesome.
Relevant Comments From Two Wall Street Journal Articles:
Far too many students go to community colleges with a dream and no map to achieve it. They take classes based on assumption, word of mouth, and what a 2 year school advisor tells them; most of which can be incorrect. This can lead to tuition and time wasted.
Focus on what needs attention; if math/science are an issue, take math/science only semesters and stay away from everything else. It can be brutal, but assuming that one will learn it at a university where classes proceed faster and with less personal attention is a formula that often fails and is very expensive in tuition costs.
A young person facing three or four remedial classes would have to be supremely motivated to endure that before making any headway towards a degree.
I’m not picking on kids, especially the marginal or unmotivated, but they certainly haven’t been helped by the secondary system that has shown no interest in them.
1) The CC has an articulation agreement with local colleges so the first two years at the CC meet all the lower division requirements for the 4-year college.
2) CC students have a great academic advisor who makes sure the CC students follow the requirements for the first two years at the “transfer” school.
3) CC students make sure to take courses in proper sequence.
4) CC students earn minimum of “C” grades; many upper upper division and 4 year schools will not accept credits with grades below a “C” grade.
5) CC students take electives “judicially.” Don’t waste them in place of required courses.
Financially, doing two years at a CC and then transferring to the U does have one major drawback—transferring students must have to re-adjust to a “new” college with new social issues.
BUT, if the CC students work while at the CC, it’s a huge financial gain.
@Gene Lebrenz ‘Financially, doing two years at a CC and then transferring to the U does have one major drawback—transferring students must have to re-adjust to a “new” college with new social issues. ‘
C, Excellent point. And, after my move from a CC professor to a university as a professor and then being promoted to dean of a business school at the U, I saw that it was easy for most students to acclimate from the CC into the U programs and society.
- Personalized advising with transfer-focused advisors
- Specialized programming and college success workshops
- Support for students wishing to stay on track and apply for competitive limited-access programs
There is a smooth transfer process, personalized advising, and excellent faculty and resources, providing a strong foundation for graduates moving on to a university. Prior to the corresponding deadlines, students apply for graduation and admission to the university.
No need based aid or merit aid so ALL costs paid with debt? What was the interest rate back then? What makes a student to this? It’s time to write about how much LESS a transfer student gets in merit aid compared to a freshman student.
I just don’t get it. Financial insanity!
@Brian Charles And I’ll also bet that many of those “credits” aren’t the same caliber as ones earned at a four year school. The JV team isn’t supposed to be as good as the varsity.
For Freshmen, the JC credits are probably better. Most of the JC teachers I have met are experienced in the field and can bring real world knowledge. They focus on teaching.
A good friend tells the story of his son at a major UC Campus. In a freshman Astronomy class, the Prof walks in the first day and tell the students that it is insulting to teach Freshmen general education. He pointed to the new teacher, one of his grad students who barely spoke English. ‘I will be off to a telescope in Hawaii for a few weeks doing real work, He will be your teacher!’ That was the last any of them saw of the ‘famous’ Prof, who they had signed up to learn from…
In many Universities, much of the ‘varsity’ team doesn’t even talk to undergrads much less teach them.
@Kevin Olson @Brian Charles I teach at “varsity” college and a “JV” college. I use the same book and test both classes on the same level of comprehension. A second year class regardless of where the class is taught covers the same material and topics. The only difference between the two classes is the “JV” class costs about one third the cost of the “Varsity” class.
In Arizona, the State universities used to have this very model, but they now all have a presence/offices in community colleges and now must accept certain 100/200 level courses such as English, Math, Sciences, etc. as direct transfer coursework. Another change for the good was a change in State law/regulation which provided for guaranteed admission to State universities for all graduates who earned an Arizona public comm. college A.A., A.A.S., or A.S. degree. No more taking ENG102 twice.
This system has streamlined the undergrad pipeline, it has raised the performance of community colleges, it is lowering the amount of time from admission to commencement for universities, and it is far less confusing and cheaper for students and their parents.
@Daniel Palmer I went to a CC for two years, while working a manual labor job to save money. When I got out of my four year university, the two year of CC/working were a major selling point in job interviews.