A few months ago, my 17-year old son was accepted into a fairly rigorous technical college that focuses on mechanics. I was happy for him, but at the same time, knew the tuition to attend the school would not be cheap. When the recruiter tallied up the costs associated with going to through the program – my wife and I were a bit shocked.
It’s no secret that attending college is one of the best investments a student can make as well as one of the costliest. Tuition seems to be going only one way: up. It’s estimated that the average loan debt that a student will take with them after graduation is over $20,000. And the sad thing is that many students will spend a large chunk of their working life paying it off!
Considering Community College
One of the things my son’s recruiter tries to emphasis with kids he works with is to pick a career first before picking a college. Many times students will go to college without any clear direction about their future career. “Give me four years and I’ll figure it out” is the mantra many students live by. But when you think about it, a student can save a lot of money and time working on figuring out what it is they are good at and how they can make it a career vs. trying to figure out where to go to school.
If a student doesn’t know what it is they want to do before entering college, many times the best solution is to attend a community college. But even if they do know – a community college can end up being a cost-effective and better solution than a 4-year private or public university.
In 2011, an article declared that community college graduates earn more money than their four-year counterparts. According to the report, community colleges tend to teach practical skills and impart technical training that others often times do not.
Average Community College Costs
So, what are the average costs to attend community college? To answer that, I consulted the College Board. These are the guys that developed the SAT entrance exam. They have a wealth of statistics on trends associated with tuition costs at 2-year community and technical colleges. Because costs can vary from school to school, let’s just compare published tuition and fees.
According to the College Board, the average tuition and fees for a 2-year community college during the 2011-2012 school year was $3,000. Now, compare those rates to a 4-year public college at $8,370. That’s quite a difference.
The College Board estimates that in this current year, 2012-2013, the tuition rates will only rise $130 for a 2-year school.
Community colleges not only have less tuition costs, but can be cheaper overall due to no room and board costs. Many students will opt for staying at home and commuting to school than relocating and paying room/board costs on top of tuition.
It’s also important to factor in grant and tax benefits when figuring in your school costs. According to the College Board, average total grant and tax benefits for attending a community college for the 2011-2012 school year amounted to $4,350. Compared against the average total tuition and fees, that’s a -$1,350 difference (essentially giving the student a free-ride!).
While some students will get their associates degree and go on to a rewarding career – many will decide to continue on to a 4-year college to continue their studies and obtain a bachelor’s degree. Consider a student attending a 4-year public institution for four years vs. another who attended a 2-year community college earning some of the same credits. The full, 4-year student would be paying (using our 2011-2012 tuition/fees number) over $30,000 while the community college student (who only needed two years at the 4-year college) would be paying just over $20,000 – a $10k difference!
As you can see, there is quite a benefit to knowing the career you want to get into and obtaining a degree as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. A community college just may be the right fit for you and you pocket book.
Did you attend a community college – what was your experience? Did you continue on to a 4-year college/university?