When pursuing a post-secondary education, a community college provides an affordable option that places students on a path toward a 4-year undergraduate degree. This structure used to be unique to the United States, though it has gained popularity through the world in recent years.
There are more than 1,100 community colleges currently enrolling students in the U.S. today. More than 12 million students each year take classes at community colleges, which is about 50% of all undergraduate students in the country.
There are several pros and cons of community college programs worth examining to determine if this educational option is right for you. Here are the key points to examine.
List of the Pros of Community College
1. It is much cheaper to attend a community college.
If you are attending a community college full-time over two semesters, then the average cost is less than $4,000 per year in tuition. Compared to the price of tuition at in-state public universities, students can save 50% or more on their educational costs for the first 2 years of their undergraduate degree. When compared to private colleges or universities, students at a community college might save up to 90% on their tuition costs.
The average cost of tuition and fees at a 4-year private university in the United States is about $130,000. If you spend the first 2 years at a community college instead, the cost of your 4-year tuition would be under $80,000.
2. Community colleges usually have flexible schedules.
If you attend a “standard” college or university, then your class schedule typically follows a 9-5 day, much like a job would. That can make it difficult for parents, working adults, and students who are trying to get through college without debt to make it to class. Most community colleges offer many night class options in multiple degree pathways, making it easier to earn the credits each semester within a schedule that works.
3. It gives students a chance to explore their options.
Some students know what career they wish to pursue before they even graduate from high school. Then there are some students who still aren’t sure which career option is right for them after a full year of college. By enrolling in a community college program, there is more of an ability to explore different career options because the classes are far cheaper than they are at comparable institutions. If you’re not sure what your major should be yet, a community college is your best bet.
4. Class sizes are usually smaller at a community college.
Although it seems like the opposite would be true, the average class size at most community colleges is smaller than it is at a traditional college or university. Most classes will have about 20 students in them, if not less. That makes it easier for students to get the personalized attention they may require to further their studies. Professors are often more accessible in this type of learning format.
5. It offers opportunities for teaching development.
The benefits of a community college don’t belong to only the students. Professionals who are trying to break into a teaching profession need to start somewhere too. A community college is the perfect employment option for those who just graduated with a degree, need to work part-time, or are trying to carve out personalized career goals outside of an educational institution.
6. Students get extra time to choose the right college.
Some students have their choice of college or university dictated to them by scholarship. Others may have multiple options and be unsure of which institution to attend. Instead of forcing the choice and potentially going somewhere that does not meet their needs, a student can choose to go to a community college instead. That gives them time to select a school that meets their expectations without worrying about whether or not their credits will transition within them.
7. It is an option for your 529 plan.
In the United States, a 529 plan is structured like an IRA, except that the account is used to pay for educational costs instead of a retirement. Community colleges are a qualified expense to withdrawal funds from this plan, which means you won’t face tax penalties for accessing this money.
8. It is usually close to home.
One of the biggest perks about attending a community college is that most are very close to home. That makes it much easier for working adults to fit classes in with their schedule. It’s also a way for high school graduates to save on room and board, providing an opportunity to stay at home with their parents instead. You can even save further if you try to eat most of your meals at home, take care of your laundry at home, and the other tasks of daily living that push the costs of a traditional college or university even higher.
List of the Cons of Community College
1. It is not an option for a 4-year degree in most circumstances.
Most community colleges are designed to provide 2 years of instruction toward an undergraduate degree. It is the equivalent of an Associates’ degree, which some community colleges may award. You might also find classes that will help you earn a specific certification in some vocations that can be used for job advancement. If you want a 4-year degree, however, a community college will only get you halfway there.
2. The workloads are often lighter at a community college.
The classes at a community college tend to happen more days per week because the time in class tends to be shorter. That means much of the work that happens at the institution tends to be outside of the classroom. Some classes may have group projects to complete, though most of the work occurs through independent study. That means a majority of your grade at a community college tends to involve how well you do on tests. If you struggle with taking tests, this option might not be right for you.
3. It can be difficult to stay invested in the program.
There are some negatives about going to college that are universal to all institutions. Some students are not invested in their education. They are complacent about where they are in life and have no desire to use the credits earned for anything beyond the community college. That can make it difficult for invested students to work on group projects, often requiring them to do all the work to earn the grade that is necessary. When that happens consistently, it can be difficult to stay interested or invested in what is being taught.
4. There is no campus life at most community colleges.
Although a community college may offer athletics, organizations, and clubs for student participation, it is not as integrated into campus life as it would be at a traditional institution. Most students at a community college are fitting their education around their life instead of having school be their life. For the students who are looking for an energetic social scene, a community college is going to come up lacking in that department.
5. It is usually paid for directly.
Community colleges rarely offer scholarships to offset the costs of tuition. Most do not offer work-study programs that can offset some of the tuition cost. That means a majority of students are on a pay-as-you-go plan with their community college. There is flexibility in that where you can take as many (or as few) classes as one can afford. It also means that you must budget at least $4,000 per year in tuition costs, which can be difficult for some families.
6. There are limited degree options from which to choose.
If you are pursuing a 2-year path at a community college that will lead to an eventual Bachelors’ degree, then you may find that your options for a major may be limited. Most local community colleges offer a handful of degree options, which are usually in the most popular occupations. If you’re interested in a specialized major, you may discover that there aren’t any classes available at your local college.
7. It may not offer 100% credit transfers.
Before you decide on taking any classes at a community college, much less pay for them, you must speak with your admissions advisor. Not every credit that you take at the community college level may transfer to a 4-year accredited institution. That means you may still need to choose which 4-year school you want to attend eventually, eliminating the advantage of being able to take time to explore your options.
The pros and cons of a community college present an opportunity to those who need a flexible, affordable educational solution. Although there are limitations to what can be accomplished with this format, it can serve as a stepping stone toward bigger and better opportunities for those who are invested in the process.