Article by Andrew Josuweit | Found on Forbes
When Adam Reres was in high school, he decided to take a different route than many of his peers. Rather than go straight to the four-year school of his dreams, he decided to start his education at a community college.
“My decision to go to community college was mainly based on cost,” said Reres. “Community college was about one-third of the tuition of a four-year school. And with all of the core requirements accounted for, it was my gateway into a four-year program without wasting money on unnecessary credits.”
Community colleges offer an affordable alternative to four-year schools; Reres’ approach saved him thousands of dollars. While some people view them as a less glamorous option, there’s no doubt that community colleges offer tremendous value – $20,000 or more in savings for many students.
A recent study by Student Loan Hero examined the cost of a college credit today. It was found that the average cost per credit at a four-year public school was $325, while private school credits are a whopping $1,039 each.
Considering the typical four-year degree is equivalent to 120 credits, students can save an average of $11,337 by completing the first half at community college. In states where college credits are more expensive, such as New Jersey, that savings can add up to more than $20,000.
Millions of students are catching onto this, which is part of the reason community college attendance has risen so dramatically. Between 2000 and 2010, enrollment in community college jumped about 2.5 million, according to U.S. News. And it’s still growing today.
Attending a community college can help you in many different ways, depending on your goals. Here are three paths to higher education you can take more inexpensively if you choose community college:
1. Pursue A Vocational Degree
Obtaining a vocational degree can be a smart way to get the skills and credentials needed for a high-paying career. Community colleges offer a wide range of programs, from electrical work to culinary curriculums, that allow you to do this without drowning yourself in debt.
Consider this: A two-year degree in baking and pastry arts from the Culinary Institute of America would cost more than $66,000. By contrast, a community college offering a two-year degree in pastry arts costs about $20,500.
And according to Chef Jeff Bacon, executive director of Providence Restaurant and Catering, many of his entry-level cooks from community colleges are his best workers.
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2. Earn Your Associate’s Degree
When most people think of a college degree, they immediately jump to a bachelor’s. But an associate’s degree — or two-year degree — is a valuable degree you can earn in community college that can lead to well-paying work.
By pursuing a two-year degree, you can graduate and start working to make money faster. In fact, Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce released a report that showed 28 percent of associate’s degree holders earned more than graduates with a bachelor’s degree.
Some fields pay very well and require only an associate’s degree. According to PayScale, some of the top-paying fields do not require a four-year degree at all, including computer engineering, economics, dental hygiene, and computer science.
Depending on what you want to do after school, a four-year degree may not be necessary. And if you don’t want to spend four years or more in college, earning your associate’s degree can be a fast-track to higher paying careers.
3. Use The 2+2 Plan
Many people use community college as a path to a four-year degree. This approach, sometimes called the “2+2 plan,” is where you spend two years in community college and then transfer to a four-year school.
Using the 2+2 plan can save you thousands and you still achieve the same bachelor’s degree as your peers. You can complete core requirements and test out courses in your potential major for much less than a course at a four-year school would cost you.
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Plus, if your high school grades weren’t that great and you couldn’t get into your dream school, going to community college for two years can give you time to bolster your application. By performing well in college, you can improve your academics and increase your chances of a school accepting you later on.
Attending a community college has many benefits, but the potential savings is one of the biggest. With student loan debt reaching crisis levels in the United States, today’s students can’t afford to ignore the opportunity community colleges present.
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