How much can I save by going to community college?

Sick of reading about the cost of college yet? If you’re here, you probably somehow have the willpower to make it through another article, looking for any way to save some money on college for yourself or a family member. Maybe you aren’t crazy about the financial aid packages you’ve seen that are dominated by student loans, maybe you could pay full boat but are wondering if college is a good investment, or maybe you just like to clip coupons at the grocery store and want to know if there’s something similar out there for college. And so you may have asked how much you can save by going to community college.

The answer, unsurprisingly, is a whole bunch of money.

U.S. News and World Report does a whole bunch of number crunching and comes up with the average costs of various types of college degrees. If you pick an in-state public college, the average tuition and fees for the 2019-20 school year is $10,116. If you go to an out-of-state public college, that number bumps up to $22,577 for 2019-20. And if you want to go to a private college, that number rises even further to $36,801 for 2019-20. And as an aside, those are just the base prices. They don’t include a place to live, food to eat, books to learn from, or anything else associated with earning a college degree.

But community college offers a number of programs at a fraction of the cost of other options. How much cheaper is community college than other types of schools? According to Community College Review, the average in-state tuition at community college in the 2019-20 school year is $4,816 per year, while out-of-state tuition averages $8,581 per year. Both of those numbers are half as much as comparable in-state and out-of-state tuitions at public four-year colleges, and 87% and 77% cheaper than private college tuition for the year. We are easily talking about numbers into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Now, community college programs are typically two-year programs that do not necessarily offer the depth and breadth of education that a four-year college offers. But, if you like the idea of getting a four-year degree but don’t want to pay full freight for it, then completing your first two years at community college and then looking to transfer to a four-year college might be something that makes sense for you. In this path, you can save money over the first two years of your college education, but upon transferring and completing your course of study, still end up with a four-year college diploma at a fraction of the cost. So this can be a viable path for some students.

Now, there is some research you have to do in order to make sure that this is the right path for a student to take. You might want to look into what kinds of credits can transfer to and from different schools, and find programs that allow you to easily transfer most of your credits. You may not be able to transfer all of your credits from a community college to a four-year college in certain programs, which could actually lead to you spending more money to take the same classes twice. So when considering this option, be sure to look at specific programs at different four-year colleges, and whether they accept community college credits as part of your coursework. This way, you can look to find the best bargain, both in terms of dollars and hours of coursework you need to complete in order to graduate.

Using community college either on its own or as part of a four-year degree program can make a lot of sense for budget-conscious students. But if you are looking to use a community college program to save money on a four-year degree, you have to do the legwork up front in order to make sure you are getting the deal you think you are. Otherwise, you can easily find yourself stuck in school for more years and more money than you would have paid for otherwise.