Are you looking for a way to avoid amassing massive student debt? Then you should consider starting your college career at a community college. There are some clear benefits of attending a community college and then transferring to a four-year college. Some of these benefits include lower costs and the ability to strengthen your academic record.
If you plan to pursue a career that requires only an Associate degree, a two-year college is a no-brainer.
Unfortunately, community colleges can sometimes get a bad rap as a slightly inferior version of 4-year-college. However, the truth is, it is possible to successfully transfer to a four-year institution, graduate and go on to have a successful career. Some graduates of two-year colleges even get into Ivy League colleges. "Among all students who completed a degree at a four-year college in 2015-16, 49 percent had enrolled at a two-year college in the previous 10 years," according to the Community College Research Center at Columbia University,
One note of caution, before you decide to pursue your education at a two-year college, do your homework. Compare different college options to ensure it is indeed the best value and the best option for you.
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Below are some of the benefits of going to a community college:
1. Lower Tuition
First, you will pay significantly less money to attend a 2-year college than you would at a 4-year college. You could easily save a third of overall college costs.
The average annual tuition at a two-year college is $0 to $3,660 (tuition & fees) compared to $10,230 for a four-year college. If you add another $11,140 for room and board at a four-year public institution, a 2+2 path is a winner.
|Average Tuition & Fees 2018-19|
|Type of College||Average Tuition & Fees|
|Public Two-Year College||$3,660|
|Public Four-Year College||$10,230|
|Private Four-Year College|| $35,830
Some community colleges are upping their game by offering a limited number of Bachelor's degrees. This make it possible for some students to graduate in place without have to transfer. For example, Collin County Community Colleges in Texas now offer two Bachelor's degrees at the same per credit cost ($54/credit) as an Associate degree. Students are now able complete two Bachelor degrees in nursing and technology for under $10,000.
2. Free College
Another benefit of going to a community college is the fact that it might actually be free. Two-year colleges in sixteen states, including Texas, offer last-dollar promise programs. These last-dollar programs cover the tuition not covered by other grants and scholarships.
Dallas County Promise, for example, is available for seniors graduating from participating high schools in Dallas County. Students from about 57 participating high schools (as of August 2020) can benefit from the The Dallas County Promise program.
Students participating in the program can transfer into a participating 4-year college and receive the same scholarship. There is even an option to start out at some of the partner four year universities.
3. Career requires an Associate Degree
If you are interested in a career that only requires an Associate degree, then this is a perfect option for you. You will be able to earn your credentials without amassing too much student debt.
Here is a sampling of high-paying jobs in the STEM field that only requires an Associate degree:
- Radiation Therapist: $82,220
- Occupational Therapy Assistant: $57,620
- Respiratory Therapist: $60,280
- Web Developers: $69,430
- Dental Hygienists $74,820
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4. Time to Adjust to College Life
Another benefit of going to a community college is the time it offers to adjust to college life.
Sadly, many students leave home for a four-year college ill-prepared for the challenges of an independent life. However, starting out at a two-year college will help you make an easier transition.
To succeed in college, you must commit to building good time management skills, study skills and advocating for yourself. Starting out at a two-year could help you strengthen the skills needed to attend and graduate college.
5. Strengthen your Academic Record
A study cited in an Harvard Graduate School of Education article found that "only 32 percent of students leave high school academically prepared for college (Greene & Foster, 2003). This percentage is even lower among black and Hispanic students." Given these statistics, it is not surprising that many students who start college will drop out. The students who face the greatest student debt burden are those who dropped out without a degree and tens of thousands of dollars in student debt.
If your high school academic record is less than stellar, starting out at a community college might be right for you. You could strengthen your academic record before transferring.
Additionally, you can take remedial courses without incurring the high costs of a 4-year college. If you are on the academic cusp, starting at a community college will teach you how to manage a full workload before moving onto a 4-year college.
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Although one of the benefits of attending a community college is lower student debt, there are some potential pitfalls. If you are not vigilant, you could end up taking more credits than you need. Or, you could miss taking the required credits for transfer to a specific Bachelor degree program.
To avoid these pitfalls, you should meet with your advisor on a regular basis. Scheduling a meeting before you register for courses each semester will ensure you are on track for graduation. If you plan to transfer to a 4-year college, you should talk to advisors at your current and prospective college.
Here are a few questions to ask both advisors:
- How many credits can I transfer?
- What is the minimum GPA required for credits to transfer?
- Does the college have any articulation (transfer) agreement with any 4-year colleges?
- Is there a residency requirement (required number of credits taken at the 4-year college) for graduation?
A successful transfer to a four-year college will require significant vigilance on your part.
If you are considering a 2+2 track (community college then four-year college), do your homework. Ask yourself: "Where can I get the best education for the least amount of money?" A two-year college is a good option, but it is not for everyone. However, if you are driven to succeed and remain focused on your goals, you will become one of the many success stories.