Is It Time to Take a Second Look at Community College?

by Diana Drake

Personal finance blogger Zina Kumok graduated from Indiana University saddled with $28,000 in student-loan debt, $350 in minimum monthly payments and a $28,000 annual journalism salary. She struggled financially, but paid off that debt well before most people by making sacrifices and saving every penny she could. Kumok is now on a mission to spread the word about smart money management — especially to young people who are just starting out on their financial journey. In her latest column for KWHS, Kumok considers the community college option.

I have to confess, the closest I’ve come to attending community college is bingeing on the TV show Community for five years. During my time shopping around for colleges, the option never really entered my mind to pursue an education at a two-year community college, rather than a four-year public or private school. What’s more, I never considered that I could do a combination of both.

That was before I graduated with $28,000 in student loans and struggled to pay them off on a modest entry-level salary. Looking back, I might have taken a few classes at a community college if I’d known how much that could have saved me.

I’ve been especially hearing the community college message of late. For example, Vice President Joe Biden stopped off at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, N.C., this month to talk about the Obama administration’s push to offer tuition-free community college for qualifying students. During that event, Biden praised community colleges for being “the most versatile institutions of higher education, especially in meeting rapidly changing workforce demands.” A few weeks later, a report on NPR’s “Weekend Edition” about young glassblowers graduating from Salem Community College in New Jersey with degrees in making customized glassware for cutting-edge scientific experiments really drove that point home.

Here are some reasons why I think community college might be worth a second look:

Did I Mention You Can Save Money?

One of the most enticing aspects of attending community college is the cost, especially when you compare it to a traditional four-year university. According to The College Board, tuition for a two-year college in the 2010-11 academic year was $2,713. No four-year school comes close to matching that price: even a four-year in-state university was almost triple that amount at $7,605 a year.

Not only can you save on tuition, but you can likely find a nearby community college, which will help you save on room and board costs. College housing fees equal more than $10,000 a year. Even if you only spend two years at a community college before transferring, you’ll save more than $20,000 by living at home during that time.

Part of what drives people away from the idea of attending community college is a lack of prestige. But despite what you may have heard, community colleges aren’t just for people who can’t get into a regular university. Many schools teach valuable workforce-specific skills, which is something to consider in a labor market that does not always have jobs for four-year liberal arts graduates. Our economy needs workers with all kinds of skills. Some students are even enrolled in specialized community college programs that involve on-the-job training apprenticeships at companies. In many cases, these students graduate with a two-year associates degree, a secure job and zero student debt.

Starting your education at a community college can also be a great stepping stone to the four-year college of your choice. Before signing up for a community college, do some research to see if a four-year university will accept its credits. Check the school’s transfer and graduation rates to see how successful it is at pushing students to the next level.

Financial expert Kenneth Feyers’ son had a positive experience transitioning to community college after high school. He graduated Santa Fe College in Florida with an associate’s degree in business before transferring to another school. He says that his son received an excellent education, and many of the professors also taught at the well-regarded University of Florida. The best part? Tuition was about a quarter of the price of UF, with smaller class sizes.

A Spirit of Exploration

I could have worked harder in high school. This really hit home when I got my scholarship information for college and realized how much more money I might have received if I had put forth a little more academic effort.

If you struggle in high school or aren’t happy with your test scores, then going to community college can give you another chance to prove you’re a good higher education candidate. Doing well at a community college can lead to more academic scholarships and opportunities at a four-year institution.

You can also try out different classes at a community college and explore a variety of careers for less money than you’d spend at a regular four-year college.

Even with all these benefits, community college isn’t a complete slam-dunk. Going to college is about more than the caliber of your education, it’s also about having the college experience. Late-night study sessions, crappy cafeteria food and crowded, festive dorm rooms are all part of that package, and a community college may not be able to provide those enduring aspects of campus life.

You have to balance the camaraderie you find at college with the practical aspect of getting a college degree. Do you know what you want to study? Are you prepared to take out four year’s worth of student loans that will saddle you with student debt? Answering those questions at a community college can save you both time and money, and may be just the start you need for a successful life after high school. Bottom line: community college is an option worth considering.

Related Links

Conversation Starters

How do you feel about a community college education? Is it something you would consider? Why or why not? Do you know anyone who has had either success or challenges taking this route?

Joe Biden talks about how community colleges can meet “rapidly changing workforce demands.” What does he mean and why is this important for the U.S. to compete in the global economy? Discuss the benefits of learning a skill versus a broader liberal arts education.

Visit the Community College Daily found in Related Links to research the latest news from these colleges, or read one of the Related KWHS Stories that involves insight about community colleges. Share what you learned with a group of students or peers. Did it open your eyes to new opportunities? What information interested you?

12 comments on “Is It Time to Take a Second Look at Community College?

  1. I do not think I would consider going to a community college. Although the workforce may desire workers with associate’s degrees, these jobs may not be well-paying and probably not as well paying as jobs that require a bachelor’s degree or higher. You will still have to pay the amount of a four year college if you plan to transfer after graduating a two year. I feel better off going to a four year college and even though it does not guarantee a job, I still have a better chance of earning a better income with a 4 year degree over a two year.

    • Zina Kumok is one of many who was in college debt. Thousands of dollars in debt. She strongly recommends thinking about going to a community college, as it would save you a lot of money in the long run. Many successful people go to a community college, even if it’s just for the first 2 years, It will help you save a lot of money: you could even have a smaller class size, and it may make it easier to learn. Living without a debt over your shoulder for years will make your life easier than it could be. But for me, i feel as if i will be more successful attending a 4 year college, than a 2 year college, and transferring out. That’s just my opinion.

  2. My generation is really struggling with affording school and many report to be in tens, sometimes hundreds of thousands in debts and student loans. In this article it addresses this problem and explains that while most people are receiving pay that is standard after they graduate, they will spend a large chunk of their life paying off these debts. So a solution arises, attending community college instead. It is even possible to take some classes in community and others at their university of choice, which would ultimately still save the student money. Because these students save money it can give them the option to explore other classes that they wouldn’t take otherwise, such as sign language. It can also help prove those who don’t do their best in high school that they can be very successful students and ultimately gain more scholarship money. In the end this article is trying to persuade students to attend a community college in order to save more money. In my opinion, attending a community college even for just prerequisites is beneficial to all students. That way they can save money, still take more advanced level classes at a better university and gain the “college experience” that most people are looking for. In fact, I plan to take some of my classes (such as my prerequisites like English 101 and Sociology) at Rowan College at Gloucester County then transferring these credits to East Carolina University where I will enter the nursing program.

    • Hi Jordan. We appreciate your thoughts about community college! The good news is that you have options. It’s not necessarily an either/or decision anymore. Possibly you start out at a community college and do so well that you earn merit scholarships to complete your education at a four-year. You just saved yourself some money. Another interesting book to help guide students in this decision was written by Shanice Miller. You can find more info about her here: She attended community college as a path to dental school. Best of luck on your journey!

  3. I do agree this article. A lot of people overlook community college because of the reputation surrounding it, but in all and all your first 2 years of college you take the same basic courses as everyone else, no matter what school you go to. Tuition for those 2 first years at community college is way less expensive, and you aren’t working to pay off those debts for the rest of your life, like as you would at a 4 year university.

  4. I’m going to school to become a nurse, specifically a Pediatric nurse. I’ve thought about colleges a little bit here and there, I’ve always told myself that I want to go away for college. Somewhere so I can get away from my town and family and be somewhat on my own. I want the full college experiences: having a dorm room, meeting my lifelong friends, and just having a good time while I get educated for my dream job. But I’ve also thought about the cost of things and how much my student loans would be. Community college seems so much better with saving money. I know for sure that I don’t want to be stuck in debt my whole life. I’m very confused on the decision I want to make and i’m scared to make the wrong choice.

    • I think that there are pros and cons when it comes to deciding whether or not going to community college is the right choice. Cost is a big pro because in the long run going to community college will save you money. However, a lot of people want to go away to college to experience what it is like to be away from home and be able to be on their own. There is nothing wrong with that because I would like to have that experience but I also do not want to be blowing all of my money on college. It is a big decision and although the article was trying to persuade people to not rule out community college it didn’t help me make a choice.

    • Hi Emily. I understand your confusion completely! Everything we hear is to go to college and get a good degree, and yet the cost and the thought of debt are so overwhelming. I would recommend a few resources for you to explore as you try to figure out your own best course. Some community colleges do provide nursing degrees. You can find a whole bunch of information on the American Association of Community Colleges website, which is linked in Related Links. Also, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing at has a wealth of info. It might be best to call up these places and ask to speak with someone who can offer you guidance. You can tell them where you live and the path you want to pursue and your main career and low-debt goals. Good luck to you!

  5. This article really gives a lot of good insight. On the option commonly overlooked. Community College. As i personally looked closer at it i really started to notice how much of a better choice it is. You come out with a degree in nowhere near the debt of a person who went to a four year institution.  Coming out of college with next to no debt is huge. People struggle with their student debt their entire lives community college is a way without that. People should really not rule out community college because it is financially the best school to go to.

  6. It’s amazing how many students have never considered attending a combination of a two-year community college and a four-year public or private school. Cost is a very important subject when dealing with community college and many students disregard cost and eventually become overwhelmed. Community college is a great tuition saver and it seems to have many other benefits that should entice people to attend them. The fact that community colleges teach valuable skills that other colleges do not provide is great because many people can’t afford to attend expensive colleges that they want to go to. Another interesting fact about this article was that people who graduate from community college are able to earn a secure job and will have no student debt. Community college gives students a second chance to prove they’re the best of the best and it seems very beneficial to attend at one.

  7. I think community college is a good option because it allows students, who can’t afford to go to a four year college, to still get an education. It seems like a reasonable option since, according to this article, community colleges offer just as good professors and programs for less money. Also, there is the option of spending two years at community college and transferring for the last two years. I, personally, am looking forward to attending a four year college because I want the full college experience. I want to stay in a dorm, learn to live on my own, and meet new people in college, so I am hoping to receive scholarships and financial aid to minimize my debt.

  8. With the world we live in today, going to college is not only hard for students but also expensive as well. Before people thought going to community college was a big issues and didn’t like to tell people they were going to a community college. Now a days, going to community college is really helpful for a lot of people. College is very expensive to get into and pay for and community college really helps out with that. You’re are still learning the same concepts just at a different price. A lot of people also don’t want to go to community college because they want that college experience. Yet, people have to give up something because they can’t afford it and don’t want to go into thousands of dollars of debt. Going to community college is a good choice for people because it isn’t too expensive and it helps out a lot of people.

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