Why Community College May be The Best Deal in Town

By James W. Bryan, October 15, 2018

More people in the U.S are enrolled in college than ever before. For many, going to college has been an initial step towards the American dream of home ownership and retirement. While statistics show that an undergraduate degree can lead to greater lifetime earnings, the cost of obtaining a diploma has inflated to record levels, and is showing no sign of leveling off. According to Marketwatch, the average price of an undergraduate degree rose 161% from 1987 to 2017.

There Is An Alternative To Starting Your Career In Debt

If the idea of spending 10-30 years repaying staggering student loan debt is giving you (or your child) pause, consider another option: community or junior college. These local institutions offer general education and elective courses, and the option to earn a two-year associate degree. And it’s all at a fraction of the cost of taking similar classes at a four-year college.

Disregard the Community College Stigma

Now, let’s take a moment to dispel common community college myths. The most common being: “the classes won’t prepare me for the rigorous coursework at a university.” Wrong. In one of my favorite personal finance books - Debt Free U- author Zac Bissonnette points out that the assumption that community college classes are easy is based on their policy of letting anyone enroll and not turning students away. (Read: Not based on any reliable facts.) Here’s the truth: community college classes can prepare you for classes at a university. It is universally known that universities and four-year colleges accept transfer credits from community colleges, because they recognize that the work required is comparable to that of many of their courses. 

Personal Experience

To make a point, I can speak from personal experience. Prior to graduating from Texas Tech University, I completed 18 unit hours of my undergraduate education by taking some general ed requirements and electives at my nearby local Dallas County Community Colleges.  

Also, when I spoke to the student advisory center at North Hennepin Community College in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, I was informed that it’s not unusual for the school to employ faculty who have previously taught at one of the local universities. Often times they teach the same class with the same text material.

Community college courses can also be taught by experienced adjunct instructors who can bring real world success and experience into the classroom.  

Take my fellow Texas Tech alumnus Matthew Mellinger. Matt works as a high level IT Technical Architect at Cargill Corporation. Prior to earning his BBA in Management Information Systems at Texas Tech and his MBA at the University of Texas at Dallas, Matt obtained his Associates in Science at Cisco Junior College in Cisco, Texas. He also works as a part-time adjunct instructor teaching Database Design and Advanced Database Design at Normandale College in Bloomington, Minnesota. 

Early on, he wondered if he would miss out on the freshman social aspect. However, his experience at Cisco brought him greater ease in navigating the large West Texas campus. He said, “with each passing year, I grow happier with my decision to start my education at Cisco.  Going there also taught me how important it was to prove to my parents that I had skin in the game with my education.”    

Matt enjoys teaching because it’s a way to advocate for community colleges and bolster the great impact they bring to our nation’s economy. He is also carrying on a family tradition. His paternal grandfather was a faculty member at Imperial Valley College in Imperial California, and both of his parents earned their Associates degrees at Imperial before transferring to and graduating from Cal Poly Pomona.

Why I Advocate for Community College

I don’t advise all parents to send their child to community college. If your family has the financial resources and your gut tells you that your child has the discipline and maturity to succeed, sending them to a four-year college will likely be a great decision. My advocacy for community college comes from my passion for helping students know that there is an alternative to entering the workforce or heading to graduate school with student loan debt.

Let’s Crunch Some Numbers

Full time attendance at Normandale College will cost you roughly $5,000 a year, while full tuition, room and board at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities is estimated at $28,000. Realizing the financial advantage of attending Normandale for two years doesn’t require a math tutor. Even if you don’t pursue a two-year associate degree, why not get an 80% discount on Psychology 101 and take it at Normandale when you come home for summer break? 

Parents: Don’t Give In

If your high schooler is marginal to average in school, think twice - no don’t think at all - about sending them to a university at an annual cost of $25,000 - $60,000. If your C student is throwing fits and threatening to put you in the worst nursing home imaginable one day, teach them the art of compromise. Arrange a deal that if they attend community college for a semester and prove themselves academically, they’ll have your blessing to head off for their dream school come January. Wondering where they’ll live? Don’t worry; universities have plenty of vacancies in the freshman dorm at the new year, thanks to all the parents who ignored my earlier advice. 

“Pride Is the Mother of Arrogance” - Toba Beta

Don’t fret, all you A+ high school students who happen to be heading to community college this fall. Where you go to college does not define who you are, and a motivated community college student will accomplish more in life than an unmotivated legacy at a prestigious university. 

Don’t believe me?  Ask these folks how community college worked out for them: 

Aaron Rodgers - Green Bay Packer fans owe a great amount of gratitude to Butte College in Oroville, California. Out of high school, Rodgers didn’t receive a single Division I scholarship offer and considered quitting football. As a freshman, he enrolled at Butte and excelled on the field and in the classroom. After one year, the University of California at Berkeley offered him a scholarship and he never looked back. Reports on his net worth range from $30.5 to $42 million. 

Amy Tan - The NY Times bestselling author attended San Jose City College before earning a double major in English and Linguistics, along with a Masters in Linguistics from San Jose State University.  Sources on her net worth vary from $900,000 to $17 million.

Arnold Schwarzenegger - The famous bodybuilder, terminator, and governor attended Santa Monica College before earning his BA in Business and International Economics at the University of Wisconsin Superior.  Schwarzenegger is worth an estimated $400 million according to Celebrity Net Worth.

George Lucas - Prior to graduating from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, Lucas attended Modesto Junior College.  The guy who brought you Star Wars is worth $5.5 billion. 

If you have additional questions about managing your education investment, give us a call. We’d love to sit down with you and discuss options, and help you plan for a bright future for your kids, and yourself.

The information herein is for illustrative purposes only. The information contained in this report has been gathered from sources we believe to be reliable, but we do not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information. This is a general education article, and should not be construed as advice specific to your personal situation.
References:
https://www.marketwatch.com/graphics/college-debt-now-and-then/
https://www.cnbc.com/2017/06/14/heres-how-much-the-average-american-in-their-20s-has-in-student-debt.html
https://www.gobankingrates.com/net-worth/celebrities/20-rich-famous-community-college-graduates/#0
Debt Free U :  https://www.amazon.com/Debt-Free-Outstanding-College-Education-Scholarships-ebook/dp/B003XQEVV2

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