With all of the media attention being focused on the student loan crisis, as well as the individual horror stories graduates are facing, community colleges stand up as an excellent antidote to the whole student loan problem. A lot of people look down their noses at the prospect of community college, but there are at least eight benefits of attending community colleges.
If for the record, I attended a community college for the first two years of my college education, and that’s why I’m such a strong advocate for them. So many of the problems associated with the cost of a college education can be at least partially mitigated by adding community colleges to the mix.
But let’s get back to those the benefits…
1. They’re Much Easier to Get Into
If you’re afraid that you or your child won’t have sufficient academic credentials to get into the four year college of their choice, community colleges can be the perfect alternative.
Since they are public institutions and locally-based, acceptance is practically automatic. If you have a poor academic record, or have not performed well on your college entrance exams, you can go to a community college.
Community colleges can be an excellent bridge into four-year institutions. If you didn’t do very well in high school, or you been out of school for a few years, a community college can be a place where you can work to improve your academic performance. And in-state public colleges will accept the transfer of your credits toward a four-year degree. Generally speaking, so will most out-of-state public colleges.
2. An Excellent Transition For Students Who Aren’t Quite Ready for College
Not everyone who graduates high school is mentally or emotionally prepared to go to a four-year college. This is particularly true if attendance at the school requires living on campus.
Not only are academic requirements more rigorous in college than in high school, but not all students can handle that in conjunction with living away from home. They will not only be living away from family, but also from friends and familiar surroundings. Many students drop out of college for this reason, rather than academics.
Community college can give a student an opportunity to get used to the academic side of college, while still enjoying the comforts of living at home.
3. Community Colleges Have Much Lower Tuition and Fees
This is probably the single biggest factor in favor of community colleges. Generally, it’s significantly less expensive to attend school at a community college, than it is even compared to an in-state public four year college. That benefit alone can take a big chunk out of the amount of student loan debt that you will need to take on.
Let’s take an example from the state of New Jersey. The County College of Morris charges $138 per credit for in-county residents. Rutgers – the State University of New Jersey – charges $13,813 total per year for in-state residents, which works out to be about $460 per credit, or more than three times the cost of attending the County College of Morris.
You could cover the first two years of your college education at the County College of Morris for about $8,280 for 60 credits. Or you can spend those first two years at Rutgers and pay $27,600. And that doesn’t include the cost of room and board for living on campus at Rutgers.
Speaking of which…
4. No Room and Board Expenses
A lot of students want to live away on campus so that they can get the full benefit of the college experience, social as well as academic. But there’s a big price to be paid for that living arrangement. The cost of room and board for living on campus is roughly equal to the cost of tuition and fees. In other words, living on campus can roughly double the cost of getting a college education.
5. A Chance to Avoid Student Loans
If you can’t pay the higher cost of attending a four-year college, and especially if that includes room and board, you’ll almost certainly be using student loan debt to cover higher costs. A lot of students and families throw caution to the wind when it comes to college, and use student loans to pay for it. In many cases, the inevitable outcome is student loan oblivion, where the student sees him- or her-self entering adult life financially impaired. And if the graduate is unable to obtain a living wage job, a large student loan balance of will add insult to injury.
Because of its lower cost for tuition and fees, and the absence of room and board expenses, attending community college for the first two years is one of the very best ways to avoid the student loan debt trap.
6. Fewer Outside Distractions
In #3 we talked about how some students are not emotionally prepared to go directly to college after high school. But there are other students who lack the discipline.
Living on campus is a veritable hornets nest of distractions. Even if a person is a natural student, the lure of an active social life can land you in academic probation (or worse) in short order.
If this is a challenge for you, or for your child, it may be best to spend the first two years attending a community college. There will be fewer distractions, and a greater opportunity to get into a routine with the academic requirements that college brings.
7. It’s Perfect for Work/Study
Another strategy to deal with high college costs is work/study. This is where the student works to pay at least part of the expenses of going to school.
Community college just works better with this arrangement. Since you don’t need to leave home, you may even be able to continue holding a job that you had in high school. And since it’s likely that there will be less competition for jobs from other college students, it may be easier to hold a job in your hometown than in a college town.
8. An Excellent Divide-and-Conquer Strategy
After four years of high school, the prospect of four years of college looked like a towering mountain that I had no motivation to climb. I credit the fact that I went to a community college as the reason why I got my a four-year degree. The idea of earning a degree in two years just seemed easier to stomach. Once I got the two year degree, going on for the four-year degree seemed a lot easier.
Some people are natural students, and they have no problem staying in school continuously from high school through grad school. But here’s a newsflash: not everyone is a natural student! I’m not, and I know that I’m hardly alone.
Do some serious ruminating on this issue, and be honest with yourself. If either you, or your child, is not a natural student, you may want to take advantage of the divide-and-conquer strategy that a community college offers.
Community college can make the task of getting a four-year degree more doable. And that can even save you money, if it means that you will complete your degree, rather than dropping out of school after one or two years.
I realize that a lot of people have a very negative view of community colleges. But given the dire straits that so many young people find themselves in with student loan debts, it’s time to embrace reality. Attending community colleges will lower the cost of college, and the amount of student loan debt that will be needed to pay for it.
Agree or disagree?