Perhaps the biggest ongoing concern about higher education is cost. Students and their families often struggle to manage paying for college. The dream of experiencing a stereotypical four-year education on an ivy-covered campus can be quite powerful and, unfortunately, may override the realities of limited finances. This, in turn, can lead to excessive student (and parent) loans and a near lifetime of indebtedness. Starting small and finishing big is often the story of community college (CC) graduates.
Of course, CCs don't have nearly the flash and ambiance of four-year campuses, but they do have the potential to deliver a solid education and can put students on the path to happiness and success in their life's work.
You may be thinking about community college. If so, you may be wondering how to evaluate their quality. A good way to get started with your CC research or to dig deeper, is to visit the College Confidential community college discussion forum. There's a lot of excellent information there.
You might be wondering if a CC would be the right choice for you. If so, you may want to check out this article: Why Community Colleges Are Good for You, by Carl J. Strikwerda, president of Elizabethtown College, where he writes about the path of CC students going on to a four-year degree:
… “For millions of young Americans, a four-year college or university is intimidating, especially if it involves living away from home, tackling challenging courses in the first semester, or taking on loans. Community colleges offer students a chance to taste college close to home, with the possibility of taking courses part-time or moving easily from part time to full time and back. Students who go to community colleges tend to take out fewer loans, even when one controls for the lower tuition. They are still trying out college. Many wisely are reluctant to take on debt, which is necessary today even at the lowest-cost public institutions, until they are confident that they can choose the right major and succeed academically."
Community colleges tend to be like most other consumer “products." There are good CCs and not-so-good CCs. One helpful tool in determining the relative quality of a community college comes from WalletHub's latest report 2019's Best & Worst Community Colleges, which notes that a year of community college is nearly three times less expensive than a year at a public four-year college. That should grab your attention if you're concerned about college costs.
So, for the benefit of those who are weighing the advantages of a CC vs. a traditional four-year education, let's take a look at the WalletHub report. You may be surprised at what's available in your area. Here are some highlights from the report's introduction and rationale:
Cost is often a major consideration when choosing a college. And with tuition rates continuing to rise every year — not to mention all the other expenses related to attendance — many would-be students are unable to afford a university education.
Community colleges offer students the ability to get higher education without having as much financial strain. During the 2018 to 2019 academic year, tuition and fees for full-time, in-state enrollment at a public two-year college averaged $3,660 per year versus $10,320 at a public four-year institution and $35,830 at a four-year private school. Students who earn their general-education credits at a community college before transferring to an in-state public four-year university can potentially save a lot of money.
Other than serving as an affordable, and in some cases free, option for education, community colleges have a number of attractive qualities. They often provide more flexible schedules, smaller class sizes and rigorous coursework. Some even go beyond two-year programs to offer four-year bachelor's degrees. These qualities advantages appeal especially to students who need to balance their studies with other commitments, such as family and work.
Individual community colleges, however, vary in quality and affordability. To determine where students can receive the best education at the lowest price, WalletHub compared more than 700 community colleges across 19 key indicators of cost and quality. Our data set ranges from the cost of in-state tuition and fees to student-faculty ratio to graduation rate…
That introduction alone would be enough to interest me in considering a CC as my higher education resource. Next, let's look into what the report says about all this. The data set ranges from the cost of in-state tuition and fees to student-faculty ratio to graduation rate. The report also includes expert insight from a panel of researchers and a full description of WalletHub's methodology. There's also an ancillary report that gives a state-level analysis of the Best & Worst Community College Systems.
Here's a quick flyover of both WalletHub reports, in hopes that it will inspire you to consider the community college option and take a closer look at what's available in your area. First, from the Best & Worst report:
1. State Technical College of Missouri
2. Arkansas State University-Mountain Home
3. Southern Arkansas University Tech
4. San Joaquin Delta College
5. Pierce College-Puyallup
WalletHub's “Worst" moniker does not appear in their complete rankings list. However, when you see the CCs listed at the bottom of their listing -- numbers 706 through 710 -- you may infer that they are far from the best.
Following the list of “best" to “worst" are six sets of helpful comparisons, such as “Lowest (vs. Highest) Cost of In-State Tuition & Fees," “Lowest (vs. Highest) Student-to-Faculty Ratio," “Highest (vs. Lowest) Graduation Rate," etc.
There's also a mind-boggling list that ranks CCs by state. Seeing all the CCs on that list is overwhelming and shows just how many CCs are out there.
Finally, you can “Ask the Experts" plus read about the report's methodology.
The introduction of the “States with the Best & Worst Community-College Systems" report says:
… Some states make community college even more accessible than usual. Multiple states and numerous cities across the U.S. have started “College Promise" programs that give residents free rides to community college. New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Tennessee are some of the states that have joined so far. Such initiatives are proving to be more critical than ever, with college tuition increases outpacing inflation and the need for post-secondary training in most jobs protected to grow through 2020.
Community colleges will be able to help meet that demand. But despite the fact that community colleges offer significant cost advantages, not every state offers schools of the same quality. Drawing on the findings of WalletHub of the best and worst individual community colleges in the U.S., we present a state-by-state ranking of community-college systems below. Read on for the results and a detailed description of our methodology...
2. South Dakota
Obviously, there's a lot of information to review between these two reports. However, it's definitely time well spent if you're pondering which way your higher education path will lead after high school. Best wishes for that journey!
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