Utilizing the benefits of the local community college may prove a better investment of time and money than attending a 4-year college right after high school.
I work with both students and parents who are wrestling with what used to be considered the best option after graduation. What I, and they, are learning is that the one-size-fits-all approach to life after high school is not always in their best interest.
Consider Julie*, a client of mine. She is a B-average student who isn't really sure what she should do with her life. Neither she nor her family are able to support the full-tuition price for the local University. And yet they all feel pressured to make a 4-year college work anyway. Why?
Consider Jonathan*, another client of mine. He is doing okay in school (ie he's not failing) but he doesn't like "book learning." He would rather develop some skills and get a job, yet his parents want him to attend a 4-year college. (* not their real names)
There are untold benefits in utilizing the local community college as part of their plan for a successful future. Thousands of students do not fit the 4-year-college-right-after-high-school mold and yet there is pressure to apply to numerous universities, choose a somewhat interesting major, extend themselves into debt, and try to make it work.
Why? I propose it's because the mentality in our culture has become centered on success being determined solely by a college degree. But this just isn't true.
As many who have earned that college degree have learned, a college degree does not guarantee a well-paying job or even a career that they are passionate about. Additionally many start life tens of thousands of dollars in debt.
While it is true that many careers do require a 4-year degree (or more), what's not true is that there is only one pathway to get there.
Many overlook one of the best options in front of them: The local technical school or community college.
Why should parents and students stop and consider these options before automatically moving into a 4-year college right after graduation? Here are some things to consider:
Not every student does well in traditional school settings. School is not for everyone. Some students thrive in the traditional model, but there are a growing number who do not. Specialty charter schools and homeschooling are all seeing increases that indicate this. Community colleges and technical schools offer a wide variety of specialty certificate programs that give opportunity to earn well-paying jobs without the traditional school mold. Why force spending thousands for a degree when success can be achieved in a less traditional way?
Not every student is interested in a liberal arts education. Most 4-year colleges offer a great liberal arts education, which is good for some careers, but not all. The blue collar workforce, specialty technical areas, and even IT do not always require a liberal arts education. Why spend 4 years (or more ) paying for an education that will not help you when success can be achieved in an alternative format?
Some community colleges offer free tuition. In California, as well as many other states in our nation, residents can attend Community College for free or at greatly reduced costs.
Students can graduate with a certificate making them eligible for well-paying jobs in as little as 18 months, and possibly not pay a dime for that education. Additionally, students can also earn transfer credits, for free or at reduced cost, before attending a 4-year college. Why not take advantage of free or reduced tuition as a pathway to success?
Spending 2 years at a community college before transferring to a 4-year college can save thousands of dollars and prevent (in most cases) graduating in debt. According to an article on credit.com, in 2019 these are the debt facts:
Average student loan debt total per person: $31,172
Average monthly student loan payment for graduates: $393
Total student loan debt in the U.S.: $1.52 trillion
Time to pay off student debt: 10 to 30 years
On average, at least two full years of a 4-year college degree can be taken at a community college. Additionally, if you are student who wishes to attend an out-of-state school (which dramatically increases coasts) attending a local community college can help you earn residency as well as give you transferable credits. Why spend thousands of dollars when the foundation classes needed to satisfy college general education requirements can be taken at a local community college at a fraction of the cost?
Earning a certificate can mean a better job while still in college. Many students need to work while in college in order to fund their education or personal living expenses. Most work minimum wage jobs or even work two or more jobs. If a student took 18 months or so to develop a skill they could conceivably work in a new career that would better help them pay for their college education. If they completed an AA-based Certificate program (one that creates both the development of a skill and completes all general education requirements for a university) they could also reduce the number of semesters they would need to pay for that education. Why wouldn't a student invest in themselves in this way in order to create a more beneficial financial situation for themselves?
There are so many benefits to be considered at the local community college and trade school, especially for students who do not have a specific passion for a future career that requires a 4-year degree or who do not like school to begin with. Additionally, they make higher education vastly more affordable, no matter the pathway a student wishes to take.
Before you commit to a 4-year college as the only pathway to success, stop and consider the benefits of utilizing the local community college or technical school instead.
Join the Conversation: What benefits do you see in utilizing your local community college as part of your plan for a successful future?