How community colleges make education more affordable

11:12 AM, Jun 06, 2018

College can come with a hefty price tag that may deter people from pursuing higher education.

According to The College Board, the average cost of attending a private, four-year college or university is $32,410 per year . That number increases to $50,900 per year when room, board, supplies, transportation and other expenses are factored in.

Community colleges offer savings with comparable high-quality instruction to that of traditional four-year schools. Lansing Community College (LCC), for example, has a two-semester, full-time, in-district cost of $3,680.

The average bachelor’s degree requires anywhere from 50-90 general education class credit hours. This means a bachelor’s degree, if completed in between 120-140 class hours (as is typical), consists of 35-75 percent general education classes or electives.

Some smart college freshmen and their equally bright parents are beginning to choose community and junior colleges for their initial college experience. Two-year colleges often offer smaller class sizes, flexible schedules and convenient local campuses that are more accessible and less intimidating for first-time college students. They also save students thousands in student loans .  

In 2017, the Community College Research Center at Columbia University conducted a study of the costs of college when starting at a four-year school versus the cost of college when starting at a community college before transferring. The study found that beginning one’s education at a community college is a sound financial decision.

The study, conducted to examine the effects of beginning a four-year degree at a community college, concluded, “…because community college is significantly lower in cost than a four-year college, it [is] worthwhile for students to start at community college.”




According to one national college cost watchdog group , “Math is math, whether you’re taking it at Harvard or Harlem Community College.” Still, many choose to borrow. The class of 2017 averaged $39,400 in student loan debt . Together, Americans owe $1.48 trillion in student loan debt.

Community colleges are committed to providing students a smooth transition to a four-year school. LCC offers transfer and articulation agreements with colleges and universities across Michigan . Students can visit LCC’s Center for Academic and Career Pathways for information about these opportunities, or work directly with LCC’s University Center , which serves to connect LCC students with focused, career-oriented transfer opportunities for bachelor’s degrees and beyond .

For some, the community college experience begins before they are even out of high school. According to U.S. News and World Report , high school counselors are advising students about the benefits of starting at a community college as early as their junior year.

At LCC’s free Early College , students finish their high school diplomas while beginning their college degrees, a process that can potentially save more than $50,000 in college costs while providing LCC’s Early College students with an opportunity to earn an associate degree before their peers at traditional high schools finish their first year of four-year college. LCC’s Early College is entirely free to its students, including the cost of textbooks.

Beyond the cost of college, starting at a local school offers intangible benefits attractive to many of today’s matriculating students. According to , the small class sizes and personal relationships with instructors typical of community colleges are less threatening to students. The flexibility provided by a community college schedule also allows for academic exploration and opportunities for employment, which is particularity attractive to those returning to college in adulthood .

A May 2017 report by CNBC touted community colleges as the “secret sauce” in an affordable education. The cost of college does not have to be frightening. Even during the summer, those enrolled at four-year colleges and universities often maximize their educational value at community colleges as guest students .  

It is likely that as the world gets smaller, the best solutions in higher education will be found locally, and community colleges already possess the grassroots organization , expert instruction and high-quality results that make the means of advancement available for everyone.


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