Is Community College Worth It?

Community colleges offer many great advantages. This guide helps you see why 12.4 million Americans chose a community college over other options.
Community colleges are definitely worth it. But many people ask why that is so when most community colleges offer only a two-year associate’s degree. In this in-depth article, we will explain to you why more than 12.4 million US students have chosen to go to community college instead of any other type of institution for higher education.
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Not only is community college worth the money you are going to spend on it but more and more students are consciously opting to go to community college for a long list of other reasons. 

Even if they want a four-year bachelor’s degree, many of them are now preferring to spend the first two years at a community college than get a transfer to a university of their choice to complete the four-year requirement.

If you are wondering what kind of college or university you want to go to for higher education this comprehensive guide will explain to you…

  1. How community colleges are different than other higher education institutions.
  2. The pros and cons of opting for a community college 

All this should help you make a solid informed decision. So let’s get started on planning your future!

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Is community college really worth it?

The straightforward answer to this is yes, they are worth the investment you are going to make on them. I am going to share 12 key benefits that you can get only at community colleges. I will also share a list of cons so that you can take a call on your own on what suits you best.

According to the 2019 edition of the “Varying Degrees” study by New America, 85 percent of Americans think public community colleges are worth the cost and 78 percent are comfortable contributing their tax dollars to them.

Additionally, 62 percent, believe that community colleges are run efficiently. 86 percent of Americans also believe that community colleges contribute greatly to a strong American workforce.

But before we get into that, let’s quickly ask ourselves, “What is community college?” 

Secondly, let’s also review how they are different than other institutions such as trade schools, technical colleges, or universities.

A community college student
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All your options: The different types of colleges

There are a number of different options you can choose from to continue your education after getting your high school diploma. These options really come into play depending on what your long-term goals are career-wise.

Trade school

Trade schools offer specialized training programs that prepare students for careers in the skilled trade sector. Super focused on developing students’ technical abilities in skilled and mechanical trades, these schools teach design, use, and understanding of tools, and machinery. 

Examples of jobs in the skilled crafts include electricians, carpenters, blacksmiths, mechanics, etc. Trade schools provide students with the technical hands-on knowledge and experience they need to master the skill required for a job. 

Most programs at trade schools take less than a year. However, depending on the subject, some programs may even take up to a year or two to complete. 

Technical school

Both trade school and technical school are very much alike with the key differences in teaching methodology and duration of the course.

While trade schools are more focused on hands-on learning, technical schools tend to allot time for classroom lectures and theoretical knowledge as well. Because of this, the duration of the courses here is usually slightly longer.

Typical examples of courses at technical schools may include culinary arts, computer technology, healthcare support, HVAC Technology, and cosmetology.

Community college

Offering a much broader education than the two vocational colleges mentioned above, community colleges offer all the above plus two-year associate’s degrees.

Going a step further than technical schools, community colleges tend to include general education in their curriculum. This helps broaden the knowledge base of students helping them apply for higher-paying jobs.

Examples include nursing, software development, information technology, and a host of other professions that pay well. 

University

Universities differ from all the above because they can offer a four-year bachelor’s degree. They tend to have the broadest educational curriculum.

Examples of courses offered here are architecture, robotics, aerodynamic engineering, business, etc.

Related: Community College vs Technical College: A Breakdown

An electrician
Photo by minervastudio from Freepik

What are the pros and cons of studying at a community college?

Unless there is a very specific reason why you have to attend a university, the advantages of studying at a community college outweigh the few disadvantages. Here are some community college vs university pros and cons.

Pros of community college

Here are the top 12 advantages that students say convinced them to opt for community college:

1. They are more affordable

Most community colleges cost a tenth of what it would cost to study at a private university. If you look at the chart below it becomes clear how much the difference is, especially if you can avoid out of state tuition.

Table of Colleges and their Average Published Yearly Tuition & Fees
Table of Colleges and their Average Published Yearly Tuition & Fees

2. It is easier to get admissions

Community colleges are essentially public schools with a focus to uplift the economic conditions of their surrounding communities. Because of this, they have an open admissions policy, and even if you meet the minimum requirement of having a high school diploma or GED you can get admitted.

Unlike universities, community colleges will take you with a 2.0 or 2.5 GPA. This is because rather than focus on being too competitive, their primary mission is to help their surrounding community to quickly become part of the workforce.

Related: Is Community College Easier Than a University?

3. Flexible Schedules

Most community colleges have very flexible schedules. This is especially helpful if you plan to continue your education with a full-time job, for example.

For many students, leaving their job to go study at a university is not an option. These students have to earn to make a living. Community colleges are a great option because you can even opt to study in the evening after work hours.

4. Financial Aid

Is community college free? Well almost. Financial Aid is not only for university students. In fact, most people do not realize that more financial aid is disbursed to community college students than it is to university students.

Top this with the fact that community colleges are already cheaper to start off with and you have a solid case in favor of them. Many students apply for various federal and state aid programs, grants, and scholarships like FAFSA with a very high probability of success.

Here is a great article on Free Community Colleges.

5. School-life balance

Because of the extremely competitive nature of universities many students are put off by the immense pressure they are under. The only way to compete is to sacrifice personal time in order to stay with or ahead of the class.

Is community college hard? 

Community colleges, while being competitive in their own right, do not have that kind of culture. You can focus on having quality education and still find quality time for a personal life.

With flexible timings, being able to pace your studies, etc., life at community college is much less stressful.

6. STEM education opportunities

STEM subjects like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are in high demand by employers. 

Community colleges focus on STEM education because the very reason why they exist is to help close the gap between the supply and demand of the workforce in their communities.

7. Articulation agreements

Community colleges have what are known as articulation agreements. These are in essence transfer agreements with universities (read more on transferring).

Instead of going to a university directly, many students are now opting to spend the first two years at a community college and get an associate’s degree. Once done, they can transfer their credits to a university that has an articulation agreement with the community college.

By doing so, these students pay a tenth of the tuition for the first two years of their higher education, saving a lot of money in the process.

8. Smaller classes

The average number of students in a class at a community college vs state college is 35 vs 300.

This matters a lot because teachers are more accessible when the class size is smaller and the engagement between students and instructors increases. 

In fact, when asked students at community colleges said they had a better relationship with their instructors than students in large university classes.

9. Earlier working opportunities with an associate’s degree

Unlike a four-year bachelor’s degree at a university, you can obtain an associate’s degree at a community college in two years.

This is very helpful if you need to start earning to support yourself or your family. With an associate’s degree, you can quickly land a reasonably well-paying job. Many students who can’t afford a university take a break after community college to save up for university.

Once they are ready they can then transfer their credits to a university and complete their bachelor’s degree.

10. A second chance

Not everyone is gifted enough to get a 3.8 or higher GPA in high school. In fact, many students tend to start getting serious about education as they approach college.

As mentioned earlier, community colleges are not as competitive as most universities are. Their aim is to help everyone get access to quality education and because of this they become a lifeline and a second chance to students who did not do well in high school.

Students take admissions in community college, work hard to improve their grades, and can then move on to universities to complete their bachelor’s degrees.

11. A chance to pace your education

While you can complete community college in two years, most students there choose to take longer. This is because community college provides them the opportunity to pace their education according to the demands of real life.

Typical students take between 2.5 to 4 years to complete their associate’s degree. These students because of other commitments would have normally just given up on education unable to meet the demands of a hectic university curriculum.

12. Non-traditional students

As mentioned earlier, community colleges were established to give access to quality education for those who were deprived of it for one reason or another.

These non-traditional students, minorities with poor English speaking skills, parents with the demands of raising children, full-time employees, the poor and marginalized population, all look to community schools as a viable opportunity to continue education rather than give up on it.

Cons of studying at a community college

In order for you to make an informed decision, we also want you to look at some of the cons that community colleges have, even if they are few.

1. The big campus experience

In order to make education more affordable, community colleges cut back on unnecessary amenities and social entities.

Most community colleges don’t have clubs and organizations which are a part of the typical university experience. So if you are looking for a lively social environment then community colleges might not be the right option for you.

2. Limited curriculum

Although some community colleges offer bachelor’s degrees this is a rare thing. Most of them do not offer more than a two-year associate’s degree.

So, if your plans are to ultimately go for a 4-years bachelor’s program then you will either opt for a university directly or transfer to one after completing your community college.

Final word

More and more Americans are now choosing to go to community college for their higher studies. In many cases, even students who want to do a four-year bachelor’s program at a university want to spend the first two years at a community college to save money.

Why is community college good? Well, this guide covered many of the great advantages that community colleges offer to you as a student. So if you are planning to start your post-secondary education you should definitely consider going to a community college.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are community college degrees worth anything?

Yes. Many students go to community college to earn a quick associate’s degree and earn more than $50,000. They can even transfer to a university and complete a bachelor’s degree later if they choose to do so.

Why are community colleges so cheap?

Are you on the fence about changing jobs or a complete career change?

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