For many students, the decision to seek a degree beyond a high school diploma weighs heavily on one detail – the cost of college tuition.
According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, between 2005 and 2016, the cost of tuition, fees, and room and board at public institutions rose by 34 percent after being adjusted for inflation. In particular, public four-year universities and colleges saw costs grow from $14,499 to $19,189, while public two-year college costs rose from $7,925 to $9,939 during the same time span.
Now, as the average total cost of tuition, fees, and room and board sits at $12,320 for public two-year colleges and $21,370 at public four-year colleges for the 2018-2019 academic school year, community colleges may offer a cheaper, more attractive alternative for those looking to begin their journey into higher education.
For many students, attending a community college to pursue an associate’s degree and later transferring to a four-year university to complete a bachelor’s degree offers a cost-saving alternative during their first two years of college.
Additionally, by enrolling in these institutions, students potentially save money on living expenses such as housing, food, and utilities if they are able to continue living at home as well, exempting them from room and board fees at four-year institutions.
One state leading the way in community college utilization is California. California currently maintains the lowest cost of tuition and fees in the U.S. and, in turn, 18 percent of full-time two-year college students in the state are California residents.
The California College Promise Grant, formerly known as the Bog Fee Waiver, permits enrollment fees to be waived for eligible California residents. The waiver aides a myriad of students across the state, including those who attend Copper Mountain College (CMC) in the San Bernardino County of Southern California, in paying for their tuition.
“I definitely feel like I am saving a lot of money by getting my associate’s degree to transfer to a four-year. Right now at CMC my tuition is $4,” Iris Martinez, a junior at Copper Mountain College told The College Post. “I was recently accepted to California Baptist University and received my financial award letter from them. If I attend CBU I am looking at $18,000 per semester. And that is not including housing, books, supplies, etc.”
Although Martinez is eligible for financial aid at California Baptist University, potentially lowering her overall bill, the annual estimated cost of attending the private, four-year institution for the 2019-2020 academic year is $44,722 according to the university’s website.
Despite the financial benefits that community colleges frequently offer, they continue to be stigmatized as being unable to provide a high-quality education, or as a last resort for students incapable of obtaining acceptance to other four-year universities.
Kylie Howell, a former attendee at Copper Mountain College who is now enrolled as a transfer student at Humboldt University, said she experienced this stigmatization after graduating from high school.
“Coming out of high school with above a 4.0 GPA and graduating third in my class, everyone expected me to attend a prestigious or high-ranking California university,” Howell told The College Post. “When I didn’t, I think some considered it smart to save money, but some also saw me wasting potential. I believe it was the best choice I made.”
Howell now credits Copper Mountain College for giving her the freedom to “find her way” as a college freshman, especially after changing her major multiple times during her tenure there, something that could have cost her far more money at a four-year university where each year of tuition costs $10,230 on average.
However, with these lower attendance costs often comes fewer amenities offered by two-year colleges in comparison to their four-year counterparts.
On-campus housing at two-year institutions is often rare, hence the reason many attendees tend to live at home or in a town with cheaper living expenses. Four-year universities also usually offer other on-site conveniences for students such as dining halls, school sports, ATMs, and room and board options. While most community colleges offer food options like a cafe and a small variety of sports, these are not guaranteed.
Although David Martin, a freshman at Copper Mountain College who eventually plans on transferring to the four-year Cal. State San Bernardino Palm Desert campus, does not necessarily expect many add-ons from a two-year college, a few came to mind that he would enjoy.
“I wish they had bachelor’s degrees,” Martin told The College Post, “but more of a student-life atmosphere overall. For example, places to eat, ATMs, etc. Sports teams like soccer.”
Despite these lacking amenities, Martin believes attending a community college has allowed him to form a “college mindset” and learn how to sufficiently function in a college environment prior to transferring to Cal. State San Bernardino.