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How to Graduate College Debt Free – Part 2. Community College

Adam Personal Finance 9 Comments

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This is a part of a multi-post series on graduating college debt free. Check out the other posts below:

What is Community College?

Community colleges (jr. college, 2 year college, technical school) are local, 2-year, public universities that provide a variety of services. They offer the basic classes you need for a 4 year institution as well as specific certification tracks and technical expertise. For the purposes of this post, we’re focused on the ability to take basics toward a 4-year degree.

Why do you care?

Community college offers the ability to take up to 60 credit hours of college coursework at a huge cost discount in cost and in a location that’s convenient.

It has a stigma attached to it, but it’s the single best way to accumulate credit hours that you intend to transfer to a 4-year school.

Cost

Let’s look at the local community college near where I grew up – Pulaski Tech

Cost per credit hour is a grand total of $95/hour or $300/class. That’s $1,500 for a full semester of 15 hours. You could do a full 2 years worth of classes for $6,000 plus fees. Thats incredibly affordable in a world where everyone does nothing but complain about the high cost of education. You can save that working minimum wage and pay for your classes. It’s last bastion of literally being able to “work your way through college”.

What do they offer?

Community College offers basically every class you will ever need that’s not specific to your major. All the basics are there – English, History, language courses, etc… (sample course catalog here).

Strategies

Depending on what stage of life you’ve reached, there are a variety of potential strategies to employ using community college.

Strategy 1 – High School

Community college, much like AP classes, can be a really valuable tool before you graduate and head off to college. There are several ways to structure this. The most time effective would be to speak with your counselor in high school and be get permission to take some of these courses in place of your high school classes. You get the option to leave campus, act like an adult, and knock out high school and college credit at once. This isn’t an uncommon practice at many schools.

The second step would be to pick up some credit hours at night or more likely in the summer. If you signed up for 1 class each summer session (summer school  is divided into 2 mini semesters) you could pick up 6 hours (2 classes per summer). If your particularly ambitious you could do 2 classes per session and pick up 12 hours. If you started this in the 9th grade, you would 24-48 hours of college credit by the time you head off to school. With a bit of effort during the school year, you could easily transfer a full 60 hours to a 4-year college, cutting the time it takes to get a 4 year degree in 1/2.

Strategy 2 – Associates Degree

There are a lot of reasons to potentially try community college before moving on to a 4 year institution.

  • You want to save money prior to heading off to a major university.
  • You don’t currently have the money for a 4 year school and are saving towards it.
  • A desire to avoid debt.
  • You want to stay close to home (there are a lot more community colleges in diverse areas than major universities).
  • You have no idea if college if for you and want to try it in a less risky, expensive, high pressure situation.
  • Your interests are more vocational.
  • You don’t have the grades or test scores for most major universities coming out of high school.

In this case we’re focusing on the cost component. If you choose to complete the 2 years of college at Pulaski Tech (or your local community college) and live it at home, you can expect to spend a grand total of $6,000.

In its most recent survey of college pricing, the College Board reports that a “moderate” college budget for an in-state public college for the 2014–2015 academic year averaged $23,410. A moderate budget at a private college averaged $46,272.

That’s a HUGE gap! If you chose the more affordable state university, that’s $93,000 over 4 years. Assuming you pay full sticker price, taking the first 2 years of classes at community college would save you a grand total of $43,500 ($46,500 – $3,000). This will either put your parents years ahead toward retirement or get you out of debt at least a couple of years ahead of time.

Let’s also not forget, that you can live at home. You can save 10x staying with your parents and going to school than you ever could while paying for your own place (rent, utilities, groceries, etc) and you get to keep your support system around you if you need it.

Strategy 3 – Summer School

The final strategy is probably the least effective as a money saver, but can be a huge help if you aren’t hitting the hours necessary to graduate time. Simply apply the high school strategy above between years at your 4 year institution. Pick up an extra class (or 4) during the summer and transfer it back to you main university.

You will still be paying for your primary, expensive school, however if you aren’t on track, the extra community college classes will keep you from needing a 5th year (and an extra $20-40k).

Conclusion

Regardless of where you are on your journey to a degree, utilizing community college can be a powerful tool to getting a head start, saving thousands of dollars, staying out of debt and even graduating early. It creates a huge amount of flexibility.

This is a part of a multi-post series on graduating college debt free. Check out the other posts below:


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Comments 9

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  1. DivHut

    Love community college. I spent one year in an CC before I transferred to a 4 year college. I tell any new graduates I know go to CC for 2 years, live at home, save money and transfer to a 4 year college later. No need to spend 4 full years at a university.

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      Adam

      That’s definitely the strategy that will create the most savings. The only better option is a full scholarship to your school of choice.

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