Knowing the cost of attending college is crucial to students who plan to pursue post-secondary studies. For students with limited budgets, going to community college is often the alternative to earning a four-year degree. One reason for this is because of their smaller class sizes and convenience as most class schedules are designed for working students. Plus, the lower average cost of community college provides more opportunities to students who want to pursue post-secondary studies.
As of 2020, there are 1,050 community colleges across the United States, serving 45% of students in higher education (American Association of Community Colleges, 2020). Most of them primarily award associate degrees and certificates. As regionally accredited institutions, community colleges are considered a vital pathway to a four-year degree. So, if you are interested in this academic path, this guide is for you.
This guide discusses the factors that influence the average cost of community college and how pricing has changed over the years. The overall cost of attending a community college will be compared to the cost of attending a traditional university. Information on financing community college attendance is also included.
For a student enrolled in a public community college, the overall cost for the two-year program is approximately $33,524 while for public out-of-state students, the cost of attending a community college will be roughly $40,884. Meanwhile, students of private community colleges can expect a cost of attendance amounting to an average of $53,704.
If tuition cost is compared between a private four-year university and a community college, the difference would be roughly 90% (The College Board, 2020). However, tuition cost is just one component of the total cost of attending community college. Other considerations include the cost of books, room and board, and living expenses.
The tuition cost of community colleges also varies depending on whether the student is from the same state as where the college is located, or from another state. For the 2021-22 school year, public community colleges charge approximately $5,155 per year for in-state students and $8,835 for out-of-state students. The average yearly tuition for private community colleges is roughly $15,477 per year (Community College Review, 2021).
Public community colleges are mainly funded by state governments while private community colleges rely on tuition fees, endowments, and alumni for funding academic programs. For 2021-22, the community college with the lowest public tuition cost is located in California at $1,458, while the lowest private community college tuition cost is in Idaho at $3,950 (Community College Review, 2021). With a cost difference of roughly 37%, the cost of community college also varies based on the type of school, whether public or private.
Source: The College Board
The total cost of attending a community college is influenced by a variety of factors. The specific degree or certificate that you want to take, as well as the type and frequency of classes that you are going to attend, have an effect on the total cost. The overall cost will also be determined by your lifestyle and on whether you would choose to live on-campus or off-campus. Whether you can afford to maintain a job while attending community college, as well as the amount of financing that you can get, would also have an effect on the total cost.
There are typically five main categories of expenses that, once identified, can help you figure out how much your community college education is going to cost. These categories include tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, personal expenses, and transportation. To some extent, you have control over some of these costs that affect your total fees. It would be much easier to create a budget once you know how much you will be spending on each of these categories.
The amount of tuition and fees may vary based on whether you are a student from in-state or from outside of the state, based on your academic program, and based on the number of credit hours you plan to take per semester. To give you an idea, the average community college cost per credit is $141. However, some academic programs may charge additional fees beyond tuition costs.
In addition, there is a wide variation in the way states support community colleges and tuition prices dramatically differ because of differences in state appropriations. Thus, in some states, the cost of tuition is considered significant in overall cost while it would appear negligible or even zero in other states.
Should you decide to live at home, you would only need to allot meal costs for this category. Most community colleges are commuter schools, which means that these schools do not have housing for students. One option is to live off-campus, in which case, you would need to allot money for room and board expenses.
The cost of books and other course materials is also another expense that you have to consider in attending community college. You may look for used textbooks, which are sold at a cheaper price. The cost of books and materials depends on the demand and availability, but almost always, there are available alternatives. Some classes also offer lower-priced book options or open-source materials, which can significantly reduce overall cost.
Your personal expenses include mobile phone bills, laundry, eating out, and other stuff that you normally spend money on while attending school. Personal expenses are often underestimated. So, it is better to list down all your personal expenses, check which are the ones you can put a cap on, and add the final amount to your budget.
Your transportation costs will vary on how frequent you travel, and your means of transport. Either way, factor in your transportation cost, including the cost of gas if you own a car and parking fee.
The cost of community college is largely influenced by social, economic, and political dynamics. To understand the cost of community college, the relationship of the state, the federal government, and the local government must be taken into account. Historically, community colleges have been supported by three sources of external funding—federal, state, and local—with state funding as the one providing the most significant amount (McGuiness, 2014).
Below, this guide will go into detail about the differences in community college costs across states to give you an idea of how much tuition fees are in the area you intend to pursue your studies in.
There are significant differences in the way states support community colleges. The state funding of community colleges is often based on a hybrid model. Community colleges typically receive some local funding, the amount of which is often determined by the wealth of neighborhoods. Some states appropriate four or five times as much as their public institutions, while in other states, tuition support is two to four times the appropriations (Yuen, 2020). The top 10 states with the lowest average community college cost are California, New Mexico, North Carolina, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Kansas, Nebraska, Mississippi, and Nevada.
|TOP 10 STATES WITH LOWEST AVERAGE COMMUNITY COLLEGE COST|
The top 10 states with the highest average community college cost are Vermont, South Dakota, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Oregon, South Carolina, Minnesota, Iowa, New York, and Pennsylvania. While there is no single explanation for the high tuition costs in these states, the Center for American Progress cites revenue gaps as one significant factor that lead to higher fees (Yuen, 2020).
Compared to community colleges, four-year universities tend to receive larger amounts of state appropriations, plus, they are able to charge higher tuition and fees. Since there are significant differences in tuition and fee revenue among institutions, and since states have different funding levels for four- and two-year colleges, some community colleges have adopted liberal market ideals, as underscored by Levin et al. (2018), as a response to external pressures. While community colleges are designed to serve the disadvantaged members of the community, when faced with limitations, such as budget cuts, these institutions adapt by implementing measures to be able to survive, and in most cases through increasing tuition costs.
|TOP 10 STATES WITH HIGHEST AVERAGE COMMUNITY COLLEGE COST|
In the U.S., there are 20 states that provide tuition subsidies to qualified community college students. These states that allot funding to cover community college tuition are:
The tuition-free programs provided by each state have specific eligibility requirements, and cover tuition fees only, which means that other expenses, such as room and board, books and course materials, transportation, and living expenses will be paid out of pocket or through other financing programs.
According to The College Board’s 2019 Trends in College Pricing report, the average in-state tuition and fees at public four-year colleges were $10,440 in A.Y. 2019-20 while out-of-state tuition and fees were $26,820. In comparison, the average in-district tuition and fees at public two-year colleges in the same year were just $3,730.
Aside from tuition, however, books and other supplies are should be included in the overall cost. Based on data from the U.S. Department of Education, during 2016-2017, the average community college student spent $1,422 on books, while students from private universities spent $1,190.
Room and board is another expense for both community college and university students. Most community colleges, however, generally do not offer on-campus apartments and dorms to students, so students that need room and board may opt to live off-campus. During A.Y. 2016-17, students at public two-year colleges spent $8,191 on room and board. Students at public four-year universities spent an average of $9,602.
Living expenses such as groceries, transportation, and utility bills also eat a chunk of a student’s expenses. The average living expense of the community college student who lived at home is $3,988, while the student who lived alone spent $3,964.
In general, the cost of tuition appears very significant in comparing the average cost of community college vs. university. Tuition tends to be lower in community colleges because they are funded by the state, and by the local and federal governments.
Just as college tuition has increased in the past decade, so did community college fees.
Between A.Y. 1990-91 and A.Y. 2020-21, the average published in-district tuition and fees in public community colleges increased from $1,810 to $3,770. The average published tuition and fee price in A.Y. 2020-21 at community colleges is 36% of the average price at public four-year universities. In A.Y. 1990-91, it was 48%. In the past 30 years, the average in-district tuition and fees doubled for public community colleges (The College Board, 2021).
Community colleges have experienced significant cuts in funding over the years. The reliance on appropriations tends to be regressive as wealthier districts provide more funds to community colleges in rich areas. On the other hand, reliance on tuition dollars shifts the burden to the individual. In any organization that needs additional funds to continue operations, the most logical way is to increase fees. Kahlenberg et al. (2018) find the present system of funding community colleges problematic because community colleges need adequate funding to be able to provide social mobility to disadvantaged students.
In spite of the challenges faced by community colleges, these institutions have remained true to their purpose. In an article published in the Community College Journal of Research and Practice, Faber and Slantcheva-Durst (2020) studied the earnings potential of community college students and its relation to education and institutional attributes.
Titled “The Impact of Community College Attributes on the Earnings of Their Students,” the authors found that “community colleges are delivering on their promise of access, responsiveness to the community, and equity. Despite the ‘value conflict’ these academic communities must address on a daily basis as a result of this promise—a conflict expressed in the community college purpose to offer education and training to everyone who reaches out to them—community colleges continue to serve as democratic institutions of opportunity.”
Source: The College Board
Based on data from the American Association of Community Colleges (2020), 64% of community college students are part-timers, of whom 72% hold a job while attending school. Among full-time students, 62% work and study at the same time. While community college is perceived as a cheaper alternative to the four-year university, students of these schools still struggle to get enough financial aid.
Luckily, there are financial aids offered by the federal government and grants provided by the state and local government, that can help students pay for the costs of attending community college. In addition, students can also explore student scholarships that will help them finance their education.
Grants, scholarships, and loans are types of financial aid. Grants are awarded based on the financial needs of the student. The Pell Grant is an example of financial aid for attending post-secondary education. The community college student may also apply for scholarships, which is awarded based on financial need or academic achievement. Grants and scholarships do not need to be repaid after graduation.
On the other hand, loans must be repaid either during attendance or after graduation. Student loan statistics reveal that this form of financial aid can be very helpful to students that want to attend college but do not have the capacity to pay during attendance. Typically, students that avail of loans repay after graduation.
To get access to financial aid, students generally turn to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to submit their applications. Applicants need to fill out the application form and they will be provided with feedback on their eligibility for grants, scholarships, or loans.
While in most four-year universities students attend classes full-time, in community colleges, majority of students attend classes on a part-time basis. In community colleges, the student population tends to have an average age of 28, which means that most students are working and studying at the same time. Attending part-time classes allows the student to make small payments to tuition and other expenses. When students self-pay, they avoid the accumulation of debt, while those that avail of financial aid are able to reduce the amount of money that they need to borrow while attending college.
Source: The College Board
After looking into the average cost of community college and the factors that influence the overall cost, is community college actually cheaper?
Community colleges are strategically located close to where students live and work because their primary mission is to make post-secondary education accessible to disadvantaged groups and facilitate social mobility. Associate degree holders have higher rates of employment and significant earnings gains compared to those with only high school diplomas.
The proximity of a community college means that you need not spend on room and board, which could translate to significant savings. In spite of the increase in tuition costs over the years, the community college still remains a viable alternative to the four-year universities that tend to charge higher fees. Should you decide to pursue a four-year degree, credit transfers are easily facilitated from community colleges to universities. Your time and money investment in a community college would definitely lead you to opportunities in the job market and in pursuing advanced studies.