Community College vs. University
There are some stark differences between community colleges and universities.
One of the first things that come to mind when people think of community colleges is that they aren't taken as seriously as their traditional university counterparts. That's simply not the case. Today's community colleges have rigorous curriculums and highly qualified teachers. They are well-equipped to prepare students for further higher education. Technical schools will even set you up to immediately join the workforce upon graduation.
According to Columbia University's data, community college graduates have a 15% higher rate of employment
than high school graduates. In other words, an associate degree gives you a much better chance of landing a job after graduation.
Another important benefit of attending a community college is affordability. When you look at the average cost of a traditional university in comparison to community colleges, you see significant savings each year. In 2021 and 2022, the average annual cost of a private four-year university reached a staggering $38,070. Meanwhile, community colleges currently average just $3,800 per year for local students.
If you're looking for the absolute cheapest route to achieve your college degree, look for a highly rated community college in your state of residence. You can save even more money by attending an online community college. This also applies to out-of-state students who are seeking more affordable options. Remember, financial aid is available for community college students, including those who study part time.
Accessibility is another consideration many students have when it comes to choosing the right school. Community colleges are often located in cities, which makes them easily accessible by public transportation.
In the first two years of a traditional university experience, you may find yourself in an auditorium with hundreds of other students. So, if you prefer a more personal approach to your education, a community college may offer small class sizes and more engagement with your teachers. Keep in mind, some fully online programs may limit access to your teachers during certain hours. This is something to consider for those who require hands-on learning.
Community colleges are also more diverse. College Board Research found that just over half of community college enrollees were non-white students, including 21% Hispanic and 14% Black. Adding to the diversity, 28% of students were over the age of 30. These statistics alone offer a clear look into the diversity of community colleges as a whole.
Unlike four-year universities, community colleges offer far more options for two-year associate degrees. Plus, many students attend on a part-time basis. This allows for a ton of flexibility when it comes to your higher education. If you intend to hold a job while you study, or you have family commitments, community colleges are much more forgiving on your schedule.
Why Attend Community College Online?
Community colleges offer many benefits over traditional universities. But, you can double down on those benefits by attending courses online. Community colleges' online programs can be even more worthwhile thanks to their flexibility, affordability, and the fact that your courses can be accessed from the comfort of your own home. Earning an associate degree from an online community college won't break the bank, and it'll set you up for the next phase of your education or prepare you to enter the workforce immediately.
When it comes to flexible study schedules, nothing beats an online community college degree. If you intend to work while you study, this is the best route for you. Others may have personal responsibilities outside of work or school that take up some of their weekly schedule. In this case, online degrees from a community college will allow you the flexibility to balance your personal and school life.
Another reason many attend community colleges online is for vocational degrees. Many schools offer specialized degrees or certificates in areas such as information technology. These courses can be taken online using sophisticated learning systems. These programs make for a smooth transition into the workforce upon graduation. This is especially true for those that know exactly what career they want to pursue.
Expert Insight About Attending Online Community Colleges
In order to better understand the many benefits of attending an online community college, we spoke with independent education consultant, Rachel Coleman. She's spent over six years as a certified counselor, where she helps high school students navigate the college application and financial aid processes. Coleman offered some valuable insight into the savings that some community colleges can provide.
"In some states (such as Oregon)," she says, "attending community college is free. So students who do their first two years at a community college before transferring to a 4-year school for their last two years are essentially getting a 50% discount on the cost of a 4-year degree. It's an exciting prospect!"
She went on to say that at some schools, such as the University of California, attending a community college guarantees your admission into a four-year university.
For students who are unsure if an online community college is right for them, Coleman shared her thoughts: "Ultimately, students need to find the education that is the best fit for their circumstances… Community college can be a fantastic fit for a student who is working a full-time job or who has limited financial resources."
Online community colleges can help mitigate the lack of resources in certain underserved communities when it comes to education. Coleman continues by saying that this is especially true if a student is "self-motivated and comfortable directing their own learning." Students on the other end of the spectrum, however, might require an in-person learning experience to support their education before transferring to a four year university.
During Coleman's years working alongside both teachers and students, she has not seen any major differences in the quality of education between community colleges and universities: "Just like with a 4-year college," she says, "a 2-year college will have a mix of strong and less strong teachers, and a mix of motivated and less motivated students. At the end of the day, what determines a student's success is their own initiative and drive, not the school environment."
So, Is Community College Worth It?
Choosing to attend community colleges should be based on several personal factors, including how much you're willing to spend on tuition, how you want to study, and how much time you're able to commit. In general, the community college experience offers a great deal of benefits that make it worth your time, money, and energy.
You can save thousands of dollars per year on tuition costs by pursuing an online community college degree compared to a traditional four-year university.
Community colleges offer transferable credits that can be put towards a bachelor's degree at a four-year university.
Some community colleges in certain states can be attended free of charge.
As mentioned above, a community college degree will increase your chances of landing a job by 15%, as compared to high school graduates — even with just an associate degree.
Some community colleges lack a vibrant campus life. Four-year universities often dedicate resources toward sports teams, social activities, and open facilities for students, such as gyms, media centers, cafeterias, and laboratories.
According to a study from Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, graduates with a two-year associate degree earn $800,000 less over the course of their career when compared to bachelor's degree holders.
Community Colleges in Your State
Curious to read about the best online community colleges in your specific state? Refer to the following list to find the school that's the best fit for you: