As of the fall of 2019, more than five and a half million students enrolled in one of the 1,462 community colleges spread across the United States. While this number has slightly decreased over the last decade, community colleges remain a popular and cost-effective option for obtaining an associate degree and, potentially, moving on to a four-year college.
Keep reading to learn the facts about community college and whether this path is right for you.
What’s The Difference Between Community College And Four-Year Universities?
Before making any decisions about your education, it’s important to understand the differences between community colleges (also known as two-year institutions) and four-year universities. Some things to keep in mind:
- The vast majority of community colleges provide only diplomas, certificates, and associate degrees, while four-year institutions commonly offer bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs.
- Community colleges typically cost significantly less than four-year schools since they don’t have nearly as much overhead. They usually don’t offer things like dining plans, schools clubs, etc., that add to tuition rates.
- Community colleges usually have smaller class sizes since they cater to regional rather than state-wide or national populations.
- Many community colleges provide open enrollment, meaning any student with a high school diploma/GED can take classes without needing to supply things like ACT/SAT scores.
- Community colleges usually don’t offer on-campus housing or food options, making it harder to socialize outside class.
Who Should Enroll In Community College?
Community colleges cater to many different types of students, ranging from first-time learners who recently graduated high school to career changers looking to gain the necessary qualifications for their new job.
While many students set their eyes on jobs that require a bachelor’s degree or more, many careers exist for those with associate degrees – and some pay quite well. Avionics technicians earned median salaries of $66,680 in 2020, while funeral home directors and dental hygienists earned median wages of $58,170 and $77,090, respectively. All three of these positions require only an associate degree.
How Much Does Community College Cost?
According to College Board, public two-year colleges cost an average of $3,800 for in-district students during the 2021-2022 school year. Resident tuition at a public four-year cost $10,740 that same year, while private schools averaged costs of $38,70. Students looking to save money on educational costs can easily do so at community colleges.
Even if learners ultimately plan to earn a bachelor’s degree or higher, completing their first two years of study at a community college can cut their costs in half.
It could be worth comparing the cost of community college to college/universities. Also, mention that some community college students can also receive scholarships.
Is Community College Free?
The cost of community college varies based on where you live. In some states, community college may be free for certain students. In Tennessee, the Tennessee Promise program provides two years of free tuition to any community college in the state. Nearly 20 other states provide similar programs, with some setting income requirements or minimum ACT/SAT scores.
Because individual states – and sometimes even individual regions or counties – set rules around when community college is free, it’s important to make sure that you start your research early. It may be that to receive free tuition, you need to enroll in a community college one county over or retake the ACT/SAT to get the required score.
How Do I Find Community Colleges Near Me?
With so many community colleges dotted throughout the country, it’s important that you’re aware of all the options near you. Universities.com provides a searchable database with a college filtering tool to help you locate schools that meet your criteria.
You can also check with your state’s Department of Education, who should be able to provide a list of community colleges in your region or state.
If you’re looking for other community colleges, check out the Find Your Perfect “U” tool. You can search over 6,000 colleges and universities with 11 different filters to find the perfect school for you!
Community College FAQs
While both types of institutions provide degrees, community colleges focus on providing associate degrees, or two-year programs, while standard colleges focus on four-year programs, such as bachelor’s degrees.
Community colleges also provide non-degree educations such as certifications and diplomas. If you’re thinking about becoming a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) or certified nursing assistant (CNA), you would likely complete your non-degree training at a community college or vocational school.
Comparing community colleges and universities in terms of good vs. bad doesn’t really explain the differences. Community college degrees themselves are often just as respected as those earned at a four-year school, but the degrees themselves do not carry the same heft.
Many jobs now require bachelor’s degrees, and those simply cannot be earned at a community college. But if the career you aspire to requires only an associate degree, community college is just as good as university.
Employers care whether or not you possess the required education and credentials to do the job in question. If you’re applying for a job that requires a minimum bachelor’s education, they will not give you the job. That said, if you did your first two years of study at a community college before transferring to a four-year school to finish your bachelor’s degree, an employer would not care. You hold the necessary education, and that is all that will matter.
Community college offers a great educational pathway for many students, especially those who otherwise may not be able to afford a four-year school or don’t feel comfortable taking on substantial amounts of debt. If you plan to work in a job that requires an associate-level education or a bachelor’s degree, community college provides a great foundation.
If you live in a state that provides free community college, taking this step makes even more sense. By attending a community college, you can gain the credentials needed to earn a higher salary without spending any money.