A money saving tip that’s thrown around (and often dismissed) when it comes to kids and college is to have them spend some time at community college.
As someone who started their education by spending several years at community college, this debate is always interesting to me. For the first two years of my college education, I worked full time (40 hours per week) in a call
Some people seem to think that sending your kids off to start a community college is always the best way to go. After all, you can get years of education at a fraction of the cost of a fancy university, and you can often transfer your credits to a four-year school.
Others won’t even pause to consider the idea.
Today I have an MBA from my states flagship university. I’ve spent years in school, striving to get a higher education. And you know what? No one today even knows I went to community college unless I tell them. All they care about is my “terminal degree” – the last degree I received. In this case, an MBA with concentrations in technology and international business.
I’ve traveled the world during my education, studying abroad in both France and China. I had an opportunity to work with distinguished professors and study alongside successful professionals.
But I can tell you, some of the best teachers and most determined students I’ve met in all my years came from my time at community college.
Note – if you, like me, spent some time at community college and would like to share your story on this site, stay tuned to the end of this article for an opportunity.
Why is it recommended? Why is it dismissed? And why would I tell you some of the best teachers and students can be found at community college? Let’s discuss.
How It Saves You Money
You can complete a lot of your basic classes, and even classes in your major, for a lot less money by getting a few years out of the way in community college. This is what I did-I had two years of classes at community college and transferred to a state school to finish my BS in Accounting.
Looking at today’s prices, the community college I went to costs a little over $600 per class. For a full course load it’s $4,500 per year.
The state school I eventually transferred to, on the other hand, is about $11k per year (tuition and fees only). So it’s over twice the cost. This means a student who does two years at community college and then two years at a state school would save about $13k.
Graduating with thirteen thousand dollars less in debt is a huge advantage.
People will often look just at tuition and fees, and ignore other costs, but community college also shines when you look at the bigger money picture. More expensive schools often come with more expensive expectations.
Evening and weekend activities. Trips on spring break. Everything I’ve read seems to indicate the pressure to spend more increases the more you’re spending on college. Likely, some of the students at the more expensive colleges have extra money from the bank of mom and dad, and can fund their extracurricular adventures more easily than someone paying their own way.
From food to fun to spring break, your fellow students at community college usually aren’t breaking the bank here. The overall spending pressure is greatly reduced.
Why People Dismiss This Option
Over my years of reading personal finance sites, I’ve seen a ton of people just outright dismiss this option for their kids when it’s raised. Why?
It usually boils down to one of the following:
- Concerns over the quality of education, teachers, or students
- Concerns their kids won’t build the network they need to succeed. This could be the network of fellow classmates, or the ability to secure internships at prestigious companies, or perhaps a network of respected professors to help get their kid into an advanced degree
- Concerns about the ability to actually transfer credits, usually because they’ve read stories about or know people who tried to transfer credits but couldn’t
- A general feeling that their kids are “too good” or “too smart” for community college
Given my own rocky start in the higher education system, I always took comfort in the fact that there were studies that showed that where you went to college mattered little in your long-term success. I would read articles that talked about how, other than your first job out of college, no one cared what school you went to or what kind of grades you got.
Once you had that first job, your performance was what mattered.
Yes, your local community college is not MIT. It’s not going to give you a Harvard-level network. You will have to do work to make sure your credits transfer – you have to watch carefully what classes you take and you’ll likely need to transfer into a specific school to ensure they transfer properly. And yes, it’s not easy to find that first job.
Neither I nor my fellow community college students could do much with internships anyway. Why not? Well, most of us are already working to pay the bills. We don’t have the luxury of just taking off from work to interview for these internships, much less quit our jobs to take them.
Why The Students Were Great
Many of my fellow students were parents, juggling work, school, and family. They were heading back to school after years away. Many were first-generation college students.
Do you know what kind of student is at school, studying after working all day and taking care of their family? Studying at their lunch breaks at work? Working as hard as they can to succeed? Heading back to school after being away for years?
Determined ones. Hard working ones. Ones who are striving to overcome obstacles in life, ones I couldn’t imagine back when I was going.
They weren’t there because they had to be. They were there because they wanted to be. Because they saw a real value in their education.
My fellow students didn’t take their education for granted, or not hand in assignments because they were out drinking too late the night before. Maybe they had a child up late the night before, or had an emergency at work and had to miss class. But they didn’t just skip out on class because it was a nice spring day and they felt like taking a trip to the beach instead.
Yes, they didn’t have fancy internships, but they had real-world work experience. They knew you come on time, don’t slack off, don’t expect other people to carry your load for you.
Frankly, I enjoyed going to school with them more than many of my MBA classmates, who I found at times to be strangely entitled and lacking in those work basics.
And at work, when I hear stories about the undergraduate experiences of my co-workers (usually filled with not working except during the summer, partying, slacking off, etc.) I feel glad I spent the first few years of my school experience with such hard workers who didn’t take their educations for granted.
Why The Teachers Were Great
Do you know who often teaches community college courses?
People whose day job it is to actually work in the field.
This wasn’t true of all the courses, as some were taught by full-time faculty with an academic background. But more than once, my classes would be taught by someone heading to the community college after work to pick up some work as an adjunct.
When your teachers actually work in the field, as opposed to spending decades in academia, they have real-world experiences to share. It made the classes more interesting, but also made it so you could see how what you were learning would apply in the real world outside the classroom.
Yes, I know, they didn’t have tons of research papers written and published in distinguished academic journals. And they weren’t winning any awards. But they were also hardworking professionals, giving up their evenings to earn extra cash and help make a difference in the lives of people who really wanted an education.
The Kids Are Alright
People end up at community college for a whole host of reasons. Sometimes they never went to college, started working right after high school, and need something flexible to get back in the groove.
Maybe they had kids in high school, or shortly thereafter, and
Sometimes they lose their jobs, and use community college to try to pursue an education.
At times they messed up big time in high school, don’t know what they want to do with their academic life, and head to a community college to try and figure things out.
Or perhaps they can’t afford anything else, and it’s the only option.
As parents, we want to do what’s best for our kids. When parents dismiss this option as something that’s not good for their kids, I worry they don’t have the right impression of these schools.
Kids are often pushed into expensive degrees at expensive schools when they aren’t even really sure what they want to do at school – or in life. Parents put pressure on themselves to take out loans to pay for their kids education, sometimes at the expense of their own financial security at retirement.
There is another path.
Community college can be a great way to knock out credits, pay as you go, and get a few years done with minimal (or no) loans.
Parents sometimes fear their kids won’t be successful if they go to community college. But where you go to college has surprisingly little bearing on your long term success as an adult. That’s why there are plenty of successful people who never went to college at all. Or who dropped out of college. Or who went to community college and then transferred to get a higher degree.
The kids are going to be all right.
I Want To Hear From You!
I would love to hear from others who went to community college, or who know someone who did – what did you think of the professors and students? And what advice would you have for parents looking at this option? Head to the comments and discuss.
And if you went to community college and are interested in sharing that story on my site, drop me a line at email@example.com. I’d love to share your story.
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