Have you considered community college? The idea might be foreign to you, and for good reason. Traditionally, community colleges have carried a stigma that identifies them as a less-than-optimal choice compared to four-year schools. In some cases, that stigma is deserved. But like any college—community-level, state run, or private—some schools are poor, some are mediocre, and some are fantastic.
So don’t rule out community colleges! The benefits of attending these local schools can be enormous. Here are three reasons:
- Cost savings: Tuition at public community colleges averages $3,520 per year, nearly a third of the average tuition at a public four-year university (and a fraction of the cost of a typical private college).
- Easier transition: Smaller class sizes, a location close to home, and a solid array of prerequisite courses make community colleges an easy transition point from high school to college.
- Keeps your options open: Going to a community college now doesn’t mean you can’t transfer to a four-year school later. But it does offer added flexibility—you can more easily attend part-time while working an internship or apprenticeship in your field of study. You can also take dual enrollment courses while still in high school.
There are two excellent pathways through community college: one is to obtain a two-year associate’s degree, the other to transfer to a four-year university. The second of these options—to transfer—can be both a money and time saver for many students. You can eliminate prerequisite courses at a community college and save a bundle by doing so. Just ensure that your credits will transfer to your four-year institution.
Earning a two-year degree from a community college can also be a plus. Pick the right area of focus, and you can out-earn holders of bachelor’s degrees right out of the gate. (Yes, it’s true.)
Attending a community college doesn’t rule out a four-year bachelor’s degree for another reason—an increasing number of community colleges actually offer in-demand bachelor’s degrees! In fact, community colleges in 21 states now confer these types of degrees.
In my own case, I accrued around 70 credit hours from local community colleges in North Carolina before transferring most of those courses to a four-year school (Thomas Edison State College) to get a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Only three of those credit hours didn’t transfer. Not a bad deal considering how much I saved on tuition.
Moving past the stigma associated with many community colleges opens up a whole new world. And to make finding the best of the best easier, we’ve compiled a short list of some of the most outstanding community colleges in the country below.
Every two years, the Aspen Institute—a think-tank based in Washington, D.C., that studies education policy—hands out prizes for the most amazing community colleges in the country. Here are the 2015 winners:
- Santa Fe College (Gainesville, FL)
- Lake Area Technical Institute (Watertown, SD)
- West Kentucky Community and Technical College (Paducah, KY)
- Kennedy-King College (Chicago, IL)
- Brazosport College (Lake Jackson, TX)
- El Paso Community College (El Paso, TX)
- Eugenio Maria de Hostos Community College (Bronx, NY)
- Indian River State College (Fort Pierce, FL)
- Olympic College (Bremerton, WA)
- Renton Technical College (Renton, WA)
It’s time to break stereotypes surrounding community colleges. These schools aren’t only for students who have low GPAs or come from low-income backgrounds. They can be a smart and savvy way for students of all economic backgrounds and achievement levels (including high achievers) to begin their journey to higher education success.