What is a community college?
Tuition cost has always been a selling point for community colleges. And these days, a competitive price is even more attractive to parents and college-bound students. But what does a bargain look like? What is a community college? And how much can a community college really save you?
From cheaper tuition cost to small class sizes and articulation agreements, community colleges offer many ways to save, says Norma Kent, senior vice president of communications and advancement for the American Association of Community Colleges. And many are catching on. In fact, enrollment at community colleges is up about 17 percent, from 2007 to 2009, Kent says.
You may ask, “if it’s cheaper am I still getting good value for my money?”
“I think community colleges do a really good job of responding to the marketplace. Students want to save money, but they still want the full college experience—residence halls, athletics, student clubs and activities,” says Heidi Marcin, director of marketing at Finger Lakes Community College (www.flcc.edu). “Community colleges are stepping up to meet these expectations. In that way, there may be more value.”
Plus, Kent says community colleges are accredited by the same agencies as other colleges. “Access is what we’re all about,” she says. “We strive very hard to keep our tuition and costs as low as we can.”
The price difference
What is a community college tuition cost? Check this out: the average tuition cost and fees average $2,544 at public two-year colleges and $5,930 at public baccalaureate colleges. For private universities it’s $32,349, according to the College Board.
“The affordability factor has always been our central selling point,” says Donna Rae Sutherland, associate director of marketing and communications at Genesee Community College (www.genesee.edu). Tuition isn’t the only selling point for community colleges, though. There are other aspects that make two-year schools a “better bang for your academic buck,” she says.
More personalized treatment
At Genesee Community College’s satellite campuses in Batavia, N.Y., there is only one lecture hall that seats 150 people and it’s used mostly for special events, Sutherland says. The rest of the classroom space throughout campus seats about 15 to 30 students.
“Community colleges tend to offer a good student to teacher ratio,” she said. “Classes are generally smaller.”
That’s one of the main reasons community colleges continue to remain the best value in education, says Bill Spiers, director of financial aid at Tallahassee Community College (www.tcc.edu). You will have more one-on-one interaction with professors, he says. Plus, classes will be taught by credentialed professionals, not graduate students working toward a degree.
“At a community college, students are front and center,” Sutherland says. “While we do have some research opportunity, what we focus on is student success.” Spiers adds that you also will be using the same resources, such as textbooks and online materials, used at a four-year or private school. The only difference, he says, is the personal attention to each student’s academic journey.
“We spend much more time with the individual student getting to know them and preparing them for the future,” Spiers says.You will save money in the long run because you will succeed academically and spend less time wondering about what classes you should be taking, he says.
Do your credits count?
When you finish your associate’s degree you can transfer to a state school or a private university. But will all of your credits transfer with you? Be sure you don’t waste time and money making up courses. One way to do that is to ask about articulation agreements, which are formal agreements that allow credits earned at community colleges to be accepted at another college or university. These agreements are very common between two and four-year schools. That’s why many four-year schools, especially state schools, look at community colleges as feeder colleges. So be sure to do your homework and research whether the community college you are attending has an articulation agreement with the school you plan to transfer to. If an agreement is in place, you are sure to save money because you won’t have to make up any course work that didn’t transfer.
Or save money by attending a community college course in the summer, while enrolled at a four-year school. Some community colleges will offer “mini-mesters” or fast track programs offered between semesters. You can receive the same coursework but for a fraction of the tuition cost and—if the community college is in your hometown—you can save by staying at home.
Attending a community college may not be for everyone, but it is a great option if you’re looking for more “bang for your academic buck,” Kent says. “A student just really needs to investigate and figure out what his or her objectives are.”