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Community Colleges: The Pros and Cons

Feb 9, 2011 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 1 Comments

In the United States, community colleges are public schools usually funded by local taxes. In general, they are usually two-year institutions providing Associate's degrees as well as professional certifications and diplomas.

While some students earn their Associate’s degree and enter the workforce directly, others transfer to a four-year institution after graduating from a community college, spending an additional two or three years to earn a Bachelor’s. Here are some of the benefits and drawbacks involved in attending a community college.

Advantages of Attending Community College

It costs less

Community college costs much less than private institutions, and they usually cost less than state schools as well. Average yearly US public two-year college tuition is about $2,713 according to The College Board, compared to $7,605 for in-state colleges, $11,990 for out-of-state colleges and $27,293 for private schools. Many traditional four-year college students have gotten used to the idea of large student loan bills to pay after graduation.
As a community college student, you may not have to.

Many students who want a four-year degree without the large tuition bill
attend community colleges first, earn a two-year degree, then transfer
their credits to a four-year institution.  This can dramatically lower your bill
for tuition on a four-year degree.

Woman Holding Happy Face, Sad Face

A community college can give you two years of cheap tuition before you transfer to finish your Bachelor’s degree.

Smaller class sizes

Unlike state schools, which tend to cost less than private schools but offer large class sizes, community college classes are often small. This means you’ll likely get more individual attention from the instructor—as well as more of a chance to ask questions in class. For some, this is essential to a successful learning experience.

Classes geared toward adult students

Many adult students attend community colleges. As a nontraditional student, you won’t feel out of place—and you won’t have to struggle to fit school into your schedule. Community colleges often offer weekend and evening classes to accommodate working students’ schedules, and some offer online classes as well. Community colleges expect to have a lot of nontraditional students, and they tend to be better at accommodating them than more traditional public or private colleges and universities.

You earn your degree in half the time

If you’re planning to go into a field that requires only a two-year degree, a community college is generally ideal. While you can also earn an Associate’s degree at some four-year institutions, community colleges are often cheaper and more accustomed to dealing with nontraditional students.

Drawbacks: Why It’s Not Right for Everyone

Not the traditional college experience

If you’re looking for the traditional trappings of college—extracurricular activities, on-campus social life, intellectual discussions in the hallways—you may be better off in a private or state university.  Students at community colleges are often there for one purpose—to get a degree and advance their career. Most community colleges don’t offer significant opportunities in sports, clubs, the arts, or other extracurricular activities not related to a major.

Tough to transfer credits

Many students attend community colleges to get a start on a Bachelor’s degree—then transfer their credits to a more prestigious university. Depending on the community college and your transfer school, however, you may have difficulty transferring credits. Some four-year colleges won’t accept community college credits, or will accept only a few—so you’ll have to spend more time and money at school in order to earn the degree you want. If this is your plan, investigate your planned-for transfer school and be sure they’ll accept all or most of your credits from your community college—before you join.

Limited degree options

Most community colleges only offer two-year degrees. In addition, many community colleges are focused mainly on vocational, job-oriented classes. While this is ideal for some students, others—particularly those looking for a more well-rounded liberal arts experience—may find themselves disappointed with class offerings at community colleges.

If your chosen career path only requires a two-year degree or certification, a community college is an excellent choice over a four-year institution—your tuition bill will be much lower, and you’ll get into the workforce more quickly with the degree you need. In addition, if your transfer school will accept the credits, a community college can give you two years of cheap tuition before you transfer to finish your Bachelor’s degree at a four-year school. But it’s not right for everyone—including those looking for a more traditional college experience.



Simon Tam Over a year ago

Actually, many four year universities now have partnerships with community colleges for guaranteed transfers. For example, in Oregon, you can get an AAOT or ASOT - they are associate's degrees you can receive where the credits can be transferred from the community college to the university. Info here:

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