Eight Benefits of Attending Community Colleges

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

Eight Benefits of Attending Community Colleges
Eight Benefits of Attending Community Colleges

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?

( Photo by Brad Montgomery )

3 Responses to Eight Benefits of Attending Community Colleges

  1. I agree with every one of your points about community college. For some reason it has always gotten a bad rap when in actuality it can provide a great education for those who want to go into a curriculum that doesn’t require a four year degree. I would include trade schools as well. Many people have no desire to go to a 4 year college and many others should NOT go. Getting trained and certified at CC or trade school allows a person to start working in their chosen field 2 or more years sooner which puts them 2 years ahead of the college graduate in terms of experience and beginning to earn an income. I’ve read that many school districts are cutting their vocational program for cost saving which is the dumbest thing they could do. If more students were directed toward these options, they might end up doing better than some college graduates.

  2. I couldn’t agree more with your points. My oldest son is simply not emotionally prepared for a college away from home. So it’s great to hear from someone with a reasonable and practical outlook on community college.

    Personally, I went to a state public university, a Big Ten school at that, and even though I made it through, and got an engineering degree, I cannot wholeheartedly recommend that environment for a lot of people. Not only are the distractions an issue, but when there are 30,000 to 40,000 students on a campus, and the way these schools are run, they literally try to flunk you out. Here you are paying damn good money, and going all the way back to the 80’s when they were relative to today, fairly expensive, they tell you in your first class, look to your left, look to your right, look behind you, as those people won’t be there when you graduate. In other words, 3/4ths won’t make it. And it’s true, at least in that school. Besides that what really sucked, was the massive class sizes that were like auditoriums, and the classes were run by grad students. Half the time, the grad students were foreign based, and couldn’t speak clear English. Nobody was accessible for help, there were no small class sizes until you get to junior year. That is simply not a quality learning environment for anyone. Then every test was graded on a curve, which meant in reality 60% of the students were flunking the tests, so how much real learning was going on ? My answer : none. The people who got high schools, had high IQ’s. If you somehow gutted it out, got with a smart group of students wiling to share and help you through some of the homework, you were lucky. This still occurs today. My wife went to a private school with small classes but it cost her father an arm and a leg to send her there. Today, that same school is $50k per year, not including room and board. People go to that school for being teachers and jobs like that, so when they graduate with $200k in debt, do you think someone on a teachers still meager salary can pay that off and still live ? Nope. They’ll be back home living with parents until they are 35. So frankly, community college should be the first choice for most people, even if they think they can afford the college payments or thrive in all of the distractions. College costs have been 500% of the rate of inflation for 30 years now. There are too many, and quite simply, if the government didn’t loan this money, 50% of colleges would go out of business, bc few would be sucked into that debt trap. the other 50% would have to cut the bloat, and lower their tuitions by at least half.

  3. Hi Mike – I agree with all that you wrote, and quite frankly I’m surprised that more people don’t get it. If you and I can see what’s happening, what’s stopping others? I’ve been shocked at the number of people who look down their noses at community colleges – and they’ve raised their kids to think the same way.

    If it’s one thing that really disturbs me it’s the massive levels of group-think that dominate our culture. You would think that a prosperous society would be more independent minded, but no, most people subscribe to the dominant mentality in most areas of life. It’s so bad that they seem incapable of perceiving reality, even when it’s banging at their front door. How could a population that’s so educated be so like-minded – or is education the problem???

    We have so many problems, and I think this is why we can’t solve them. In previous generations, great leaders would have lead a willing population down a different path. Today – everyone is so completely certain that there’s a right way to do everything.

    I also agree with your comment that 50% of the colleges would fold if it weren’t for government loans. Those are the grease that are keeping the whole college system going. The vast majority of people really can no longer afford college, but they cover the difference with loans. It’s absurd that a young person should come out of college with $50k, $100k or $200k in debt. Worse, so many people can’t see an alternative – or won’t even consider it. They go along with the established program, and assume it will all work out. What kind of strategy is that???

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