Whether you are a parent or grandparent of a budding young college student, or are perhaps seeking to return to school yourself in the interest of furthering your career, the now-enormous cost of higher education has become such a consideration that many are either changing life plans outright because of that cost, or are choosing to embark on a perilous financial journey by going neck-deep in debt in order to pay the freight.
One great option for pursuing a four-year degree in a way that makes the financial component of doing so much more manageable involves the strategic use of a community college in one’s efforts. While two-year schools have been the butt of elitist jokes for longer than anyone can remember, many are now of a quality that students can seamlessly transfer into universities from community colleges and finish their bachelor’s degrees on time.
This is nothing to sneeze at; according to an article over at CNBC.com, community colleges, on average, charge just $3,500 per year for tuition. That’s about one-third of the tuition cost at a four-year public college, and about one-tenth of the cost at a private university.
In other words, many students can assemble a perfectly fine, perfectly transferable academic record for the first two years of their bachelor’s degree program, but a massively reduced cost.
To employ the strategy with great effectiveness, however, there are three, sequential steps the student should take, says Davis Jenkins of Columbia University’s Community College Research Center.
First, the student should determine their major and declare it as soon as possible. Doing that limits the chances that he or she will take any courses during the first two years that don’t ultimately count toward the graduation requirements at the four-year school.
Picking up from step one, Jenkins recommends that once a major is chosen, the student contacts one of the universities they’re considering and find out from the appropriate department what courses should be taken during the first two years to ensure a smooth transition to the third year.
Step three involves taking the curriculum information learned from the university and getting with the academic advising office at the community college to be sure the course selections made there are just what they should be.
A silver lining of the ridiculous cost of so many four-year schools is the diminishment of academic stigmas that have historically plagued community colleges. Anyone seeking a bachelor’s degree these days would be crazy not to try to find a way to earn it without becoming mired in financial quicksand. Going the community college route offers as good a way as any to effectively accomplish that goal.
By Robert G. Yetman, Jr. Editor At Large