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Community College – A Good Investment…

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about Zac Bissonnette’s recommendation for students to attend community college for two years prior to moving to a four year university. Surprisingly, a lot of you didn’t agree and several folks stated, ‘You get what you pay for.’

Here’s the funny part…

I attended community college prior to moving on to a private university.

Obviously I’m not the expert but let me tell you why I absolutely agree with Zac (obviously not all community colleges are the same as ours):

1. Our state college and our community college shared more than half of the same instructors – who taught the same classes at both. The difference? I paid $60 while my state friends paid $580.

2. The class sizes were significantly smaller at the community college vs. the state college. All of my teachers knew my name.

3. San Diego State University, our local state college, is notorious for its impossible acceptance standards. BUT, if you attend the local community college for two years, you are guaranteed a spot. While your perfect GPA valedictorian student can’t get in, my average GPA husband is registering for classes.

4. According to Bissonnette, students who transfer from community college to a four year university are more likely to graduate than those who started in university their freshman year.

5. Best of all, my student loans amounted to $15,000 instead of $30,000 and my diploma from my private university looks exactly the same as someone who attended all four years. There isn’t an asterisk on my diploma saying, ‘We only vouch for half her education.’

That’s just my experience… what’s yours?


32 Comments

  • Reply Brandi |

    I have the same experience. I started taking classes at our community college while in High School .. for free! And once I graduated HS I kept at it for a year before transferring to a state university. I ended up with my 4 year degree in 3 years and graduated a whole year before the rest of my HS class. And while my debt is high (35,000) it could have been a LOT worse 🙂

  • Reply Jenn in Michigan |

    It really depends on the student and the opportunities available. There was a University in the town I grew up, but not a community college and frankly I didn’t even know at the time that was an option. I regret the money I spent taking the General Ed classes I could have done at CC for cheaper, but I also needed to leave my home freshman year and move into a dorm. Most CCs don’t offer that kind of residential option.

    Each CC is different and if the student has a plan, unlike I did, then the options are worth exploring. If the student needs the anchor of a completely residential college like I did then straight to the University makes sense. My other big regret, going to a MSU rather than a smaller school, but then I’d probably have even more debt.

  • Reply Nichole@40daysof |

    My experience is that I would have done better in college if I had gone the CC route first. BUT I can tell you from personal experience that the CC I had access to was very inferior to my state school. I don’t think that’s the norm.

  • Reply KV in DC |

    Right on! My husband and I both have our undergrad degrees from private schools and he has his a graduate degree from an Ivy. We both ended up working in higher education, and both STRONGLY agree that going to a Community College for two years is a good investment. Most people don’t realize that a really high percentage of students at CCs already have at least a bachelor’s degree – the lifelong learning and career-changing crowd. It’s really a myth that because they have open enrollment that these are institutions loaded with people who weren’t able to be accepted into a typical 4-year institution. It may lack the prestige to say you’re starting at XY Community College, but would you rather pay $2,500 a year in tuition or $25,000? We shelled out over $150,000 for our educations. As a result, we delayed buying a house, having kids, travelling, etc. until we got rid of all the debt. It was hard, and I’d make a differenct choice now.

  • Reply Jen |

    My mother went to a CC before a 4 year college to get her bachelor’s degree. It worked well for her since she went back to school while raising two children! Since the CC was closer to home for the first two years it made it easier for her to manage her classes.

    After I graduated college I took a coure or two at the same CC to get a feel for what I wanted to do with my life. It helped me decide that no, I did not want to go to law school, and thereby saved me a ton of money! 🙂

    Like others have said, I think it really depends on the student. There is some value in living on campus all four years and getting the “typical” college experience. College isn’t just about what you learn in class – it’s also about what you learn from interacting with your classmates out of class. But CCs provide a very valuable way to get a degree to people who cannot afford the “typical” route.

  • Reply MW |

    (On a side note, while SDSU has gotten more picky in recent years, I would say it’s a stretch to call the school “notorious for its impossible acceptance standards.” It’s notorious for being a party school. It’s notorious for being impacted and it being hard to get classes once you’re in. But I don’t think anyone considers SDSU to be in the same class as incredibly selective colleges and universities.)

  • Reply Starr |

    Having spent several years in academia, I can tell you that many of my colleagues are now teaching at Community Colleges! Even graduates of prestigious PhD programs end up tenured at these places, so often, students end up with extremely high quality instructors. Considering how many classes are taught by adjuncts or graduate students at very expensive schools, I’m not sure it’s worth it to spend a fortune. In my area, there are lots of great community colleges, and if we’re here when my kids graduate high school, I plan on encouraging them to start there.

  • Reply Honey |

    I had more than enough scholarship $ to go anywhere that I wanted, though I did go to a state school for personal reasons. I don’t think that taking out any loans is worth it for a Bachelor’s degree when it is so easy to get free money for school at that level. All my student loan debt is from 8 years post-BA (2 years for an MA and 6 for a PhD).

  • Reply MyMoneyMess |

    With education it’s not so much a question of “you get what you pay for” it’s more along the lines of you get what you put into it in terms of study and effort.

    One can easily make the case that the student at the community college who studies hard an makes sure he really “gets” what his instructors are teaching will get a “better” education than the student at a four-year school that does just enough to pass their classes – or vice versa. Has nothing to do with the school or the fees being paid.

  • Reply Amanda |

    I wish I had gone this route (and convinced my much younger sister to do so). I went to a 4-year state school and got a relatively useless Bachelor’s degree. I’m now going to an excellent tech school for an AAS in IT. If I had gone that route in the first place, I wouldn’t be $40k in debt and if I wanted, would’ve been guaranteed a spot at a Big 10 school. Nobody around me bothered to say “hey, do this instead”.

    Also, I think Honey’s comment about how it’s so easy to get free money is utterly ridiculous. My father was retired, my mom was unemployed and I couldn’t get federal grants or any type of scholarship, and I graduated from high school with honors, plenty of volunteer work, etc. I know the real reason why I didn’t get money, but let’s not go there.

  • Reply Honey |

    Even if you don’t get a “big-name” scholarship, there are thousands of little scholarships that you can apply for that will add up to the total cost. Just like the commenter who said that the person who puts in the most work gets the biggest reward regardless of where they go to school, the student who applies for the most scholarships can get a free education. And will probably appreciate it more at the time than the person who is taking out loans (who will look back on their education during the painful repayment period and wish they had appreciated it more). Have you read Ramit Sethi’s account about how he applied for – and received – over $100,000 in scholarships, etc.? I did something similar and ended up with about the same amount in aid, so I know it works. Like paying off debt, you just have to be persistent.

  • Reply Honey |

    Many of the littler scholarships are not competitive at all because no one does the research and knows to apply! Lots of times you are the only applicant.

  • Reply chacha |

    It depends entirely on the student. In my opinion. Some need the community college experience initially more than others – the smaller class sizes, more attention, etc. It can be detrimental to some to be thrown into huge weed-out lecture classes with little one-on-one help.

    However, I think I would have been bored and it would have done me more harm than good. I needed to be tossed into the shark tank. I graduated in 4 years from an ivy with only 20K in loans thanks to generous financial aid (my parents made like maybe 70K annually) and my parents paying around 12K themselves per year (I am grateful for that).

    Yeah, it’s a lot of $$$ – it was like 70K total for 4 years but my degree from a top tier school keeps paying back every time I look for a new job. It’s just a name but it means something. It was 120% worth it.

  • Reply Jennifer |

    I think it depends on the school as well. I went to a 4 year University, and the summer after my freshman year, I took a couple of classes at the local CC, and they were a joke. Easy A’s, yes, but did I learn anything? Not really. It was more of a glorified high school to me than a real college class.

  • Reply christy |

    I went to the local university in my area, which had really reasonable tuition fees. I paid my entire way through college with scholarships. I lived off campus, and I worked full time until my last semester. College was not a fun time for me. Instead it was a lot of hard work and dedication and sacrifice. But I made it work.

    I am always shocked when I hear how much other people paid for their bachelor’s degree.

  • Reply James Hess |

    Community College for the first two years makes sense for all the reasons that you laid out. I have a lot of info on college loans and how to save money when at college on my site check it out.

  • Reply Shannon |

    I think it’s different today than it was 25 years ago. My parents put a LOT of emphasis on “go to college, so you can get a decent job” They didn’t care where I went, or what I studied. It was just get the degree. It made sense to pay for 4 years of school because the payoff of getting a better job was sooo easy to see.

    It isn’t like that now. It’s just not. Yes, in the long run you do better with a degree. But jobs today are EXTREMELY specific in what they are looking for in an applicant. Merely having a degree isn’t what it used to be. It doesn’t automatically ensure a better income or an easier life. You still have to start at near nothing and work your way up. If I owed 50K for going 4 years to a university but could only earn 25K the first 3-5 years I was out….I just don’t see that as being sensible. Not anymore. I hope my daughter (some 15 years from now) is smart enough to get in anywhere she wants, and that we are smart enough to teach her the whole picture, not just the end result that matters. 2 years at a CC seems like a MUCH better option now than it used to be.

  • Reply Alexandria |

    I don’t think I commented last time, but I didn’t agree at all with “you get what you pay for.”

    I attended a few community college classes in the summers and the classes were excellent.

    I got most of my degree at State. My college was really inexpensive, but I probably should have just gone to community college and made it even less expensive.

    To take it to another level, I had friends that attended the UCs around the state of California. I sat in on some of those classes, and it was very eye opening. My State classes were small and I got to know the professors pretty well. A lot of my friend’s classes were taught by aides – in classes with hundreds of students.

    I won’t say that their education had no benefits or weren’t worth the higher costs. I can’t judge that from sitting in on a handful of classes. But, it was clear to me that I got a lot more bang for my buck.

    I took some state and private school Grad classes, and my experience was similar. The state Grad program was far better – but stuck with private school since we moved.

    I am glad I didn’t waste more money on a *name brand,* myself.

  • Reply danna |

    I am actually attending CC right now. I do not have a 4 yr degree and have found it very hard to compete in the job market. I am topped out salary wise at my current job. I find the classes to be easy…too easy. I will receive an AAS in Paralegal Studies and hope to earn more.

    However, my son opted to go to a 4 yr State University. He has thrived. We live in a small town and there is no way he would have made the contacts he has staying here for 2 years. He is now an intern with a major sports team that he landed through networking. I think for him the experience outweighed the cost.

  • Reply Megan |

    My experience is my husband losing out on at least 3 job offers because of the community college classes showing up on his transcript. They asked him why he didn’t go directly to university and considered him less than other students. Said so to his face.

  • Reply Nancy |

    I agree community college is a great investment. I spent two years at community college before moving onto a state university. My transcripts from the state university do not show that half of my credits were earned at community college, and my degree is no different than others who spent all 4 years at the state university.

  • Reply Owen |

    Totally agree! I spent 3 years at CC and transferred to a University with all my credits but not my GPA. After the first semester I was asked to be a member of the Golden Key National Honor Society because of my high GPA. Well worth giving up the dorm life for my parents basement for a few years. Besides, you can’t really enjoy all the benefits of college until you’re 21. 😉

  • Reply Eileen |

    The main problem with CC is that you cannot get into any classes you need. Students will spend way more than the expected 2 years at a CC because they are unable to register even for a full schedule. There is just no space in classes because the CCs are overcrowded … at least in California they are. So if you go to CC, you are staying for around 4-6 years and then completing another 2 years at a university. Imagine all the lost years you could have had working ($35K or more per year)if you had gone directly to a university and graduated with a degree in 4 years. The opportunity cost is astronomical.

  • Reply kyla |

    I used to think a CC was of lower education and went to a state school to receive my bachelors and masters degrees. Luckily I attended on scholarship or I would be broke! After 6 years out of school in the workforce, I decided I wanted to change careers and decided since I was paying this time, to attend a CC. I have absolutely loved it! My teachers teach the same Architecture courses at the universities around me so I feel I am getting the same value of education for less cost. I also now value the smaller class sizes. I went to a large state university where freshmen classes bordered on the hundreds and you barely got a chance to talk to your teacher, let alone your T.A. I have been able to create these amazing relationships with my teachers at my CC. Since they are all practicing architects in the field as well as teachers rather than just professors, I have created a great contact base with which to start a new career.

  • Reply Danna |

    I think Eileen maybe right. I could only get into 2 on campus courses for next semester and so I am having to take on-line courses (which I hate).

    Sounds like CC isn’t for everyone but it does have its place. The one I attend is very well respected in the community and I don’t expect to have a problem finding a job with my degree.

  • Reply hp |

    Community colleges are a wonderful option–a lot of states have requirements that community college work transfer to state universities. I did the out-of-state school experience and hated it (and the money it cost), so I returned home and went to the community college followed by an in-state university. Despite the out-of-state semester with no credits counting, I still graduated in three years (mainly due to the community college). The university I ended up at gave me a scholarship and when I graduated, I had saved up enough scholarship and work-study money to pay for most of my masters. I now teach at the community college I graduated from–I can’t recommend them enough. I just wish I hadn’t been so snobby coming out of high school to just discount the community college.

  • Reply Ashley |

    I think it just depends on if the community college has agreements with other 4-year colleges near it. I work at a community college, (but spent 4.5 years at two different 4-yr colleges for education), and they have agreements with a few colleges around here. It works well, because students KNOW that certain classes will transfer and others will not. If one goes to a community college without doing one’s research, yes, one can get screwed.

  • Reply Angela |

    Speaking as a school counselor who has worked in several states, I have found that the 2 year community college route to the 4 year university is the way to go. Most good community colleges have agreements with local universities to accept the 2 year liberal arts graduate without question. That means they(the universities)have strong faith in what the student has learned. The first 2 years are filled with English, Math, History, Science, foreign languages, and a few electives. Why spend over twice the amount for the same courses, especially if your college funds are limited? I, personally, went the community college route, received a partial scholarship to a four year university, where I completed a double major in 2 years and my masters in 2 more years. I now am 2 classes and a dissertation away from my doctorate and I am thankful for the education that I have received from every school.

  • Reply Lizzie |

    Like you, I went to a community college for two years, then graduated from a four-year university two years later. And no special notes on my diploma. I’m really glad that things worked out the way they did, or I would be buried under $40k in student loans instead of just the $11k it cost me for those last two years.

  • Reply ellen |

    I did not go to a community college, but went to a state school in the town where I was living at the time. I lived cheap, bought books used or borrowed from the library. I was in the work study program where I worked on campus and graduated with a total of $1,200.00 in student loans. I am horrified by the student loan debt I hear about. My advice to students: GET A JOB. Work full time and study part time if you have to, live cheap, borrow only what you need. DO NOT finance your living expenses.

  • Reply Mon |

    I went to a local CC after high school and it was the best thing I’ve ever done. I had no idea what I wanted to major in and CC allowed me the freedom to try different things at a reasonable price. When I was ready I transferred to a major university and focused on taking advantage of all opportunities within my chosen field.

  • Reply tami |

    My now husband and I met at a community college.
    I got my Associates and a Certificate, he transferred to a four year. Our parents didn’t pay a nickel and through hard work we paid in cash – no loans. One of my two jobs during college was as a student aid at the community college. That was a wonderful experience in and of itself. I HIGHLY recommend it for everyone. Our tax dollars are paying for it! If my oldest didn’t get a scholarship to a four year college, he would have gone to our local community college, my youngest son will be going to a community college. I LOVED IT!

So, what do you think ?