Two-year colleges offer many benefits to students, including affordability and convenience.
The traditional four-year college experience isn't for everyone. Some students aren't sure what they want to study, while others are looking for a more affordable education. Many students study for two years at community college before transferring to a four-year college, saving significant money on tuition. Plus, students interested in some fields can expect to earn more than $50.000 with an associate degree, and community colleges afford job training and certificates that can be valuable. If you're considering attending a community college, or if you're curious about the benefits, check out the following reasons why attending one might be a good decision.
Paying for college is a big consideration, and the average cost of annual tuition and fees at four-year institutions in the 2018-2019 school year was $35,676 at private colleges, $9,716 for state residents at public colleges and $21,629 for out-of-state students at state schools, according to U.S. News data. As the national student debt tops $1.5 trillion, the rising cost of tuition can lead to significant student loans. In contrast, community colleges charge about $3,660 on average per year for in-state students, according to the 2018 Trends in College Pricing report released by the College Board. According to the report, many states are adopting free community college programs like the Tennessee Promise program, which provides funding for students to fill the gap between Pell Grants and other grant aid for high school graduates who meet certain requirements.
2. Academic flexibility
Attending a community college can be a good way for students to ease into the world of higher education and learn at their own pace. This is especially true for students who struggled in high school or anyone who's unsure if they want to make the significant time and money investment in college, experts say.
3. Financial aid
Financial aid isn't only for four-year college students – community college students are eligible as well. Federal student loans require students to be enrolled half time – about six credit hours, or two courses. Students just need to make sure they don't drop out of classes or they'll risk losing their aid award.
4. School-life balance
About 60 percent of community college students attend school part-time, so anyone interested in taking one or two classes at a time will not feel out of place. This makes community college a good option for nontraditional students like parents and older students who wish to balance school with family or career obligations.
5. STEM education opportunities
Community colleges have associate degree programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. These so-called STEM subjects are in demand by employers, and some community colleges are supporting these students as they work their way up to a career, experts say.
6. Transfer agreements
Enrolling in a community college doesn't have to be a student's final destination. Many two-year schools offer admissions agreements with public colleges that allow qualified students to transfer their credits toward earning a bachelor's degree. According to National Student Clearinghouse Research Center data, 29% of community college students who started in fall of 2011 transferred to a four-year institution within six years.
7. Elements of traditional college
Two-year colleges haven't always provided the same student experience as four-year schools, but that is changing. Over one-quarter of community colleges now offer dorms, , according to a 2016 report from the American Association of Community Colleges. And it's possible to find extracurricular activities, scholarships and networking activities on two-year campuses.
8. Personalized attention
Many community colleges offer smaller class sizes than larger schools, meaning students can find more personal attention and one-on-one time with instructors. This can be a plus for students who like to learn at their own pace and ask plenty of questions as they go.
9. Professional certificates
Career progress is often tied to advanced degrees and skill development, usually through costly graduate school programs. But community colleges provide professional and short-term certificates in many fields, including information technology and electronics. In 2016-2017, community colleges conferred 549,149 certificates, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.
10. Online class options
As is the case with four-year universities, certain community colleges have expanded online offerings to entice more students. This includes training professors to be available at odd hours and tailoring programs to fit regional industry needs. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that two-thirds of community college students were enrolled in online classes in fall 2017. These credits can potentially be used toward a four-year degree.