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5 Ways Community Colleges Save You Money

With college tuition costs skyrocketing, community colleges are getting a second look from millions of families this year. Community colleges cut costs in a number of ways, some of which many students and parents forget to consider. Concerned with getting admitted to a college in the first place, families are overlooking five key ways community college can save students serious dough.


Tuition is a beastly expense at both public and private four-year schools. For the 2009 – 2010 academic year, the latest year for which data was available, average costs were $12,804 for a public school and $32,184 at private schools according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Community college tuition rates average 36 percent of rates charged by public four-year schools – around $4,600 for the 2009 – 2010 school year, according to the NCES. In some areas, community college can be up to eight times less expensive than nearby four-year schools.

New York, Texas, Michigan, and Nebraska are all examples of states where local community colleges charge a mere fraction of state university rates. When you consider that the average student loan debt of 2012’s graduating class tops $27,000, the tuition break you can get at community college looks even better.

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Along with tuition, there is the issue of fees. Most universities charge a variety of fees to students – technology fees, library use fees, rec center fees, and so on. These fees are in addition to tuition, and for the 2009 – 2010 academic year, the median fees were $6,458 for public four-year schools and $14,432 for private four-year schools.

Admittedly, some of those fee averages include housing costs for full-time students. Yet for students attending community college in 2009 – 2010, median fee assessment was just $2,380. The bottom 10 percent of community colleges, pricewise, charged an average of $704 for the year in fees, while the upper 10 percent charged $3,650, according to the NCES. Even at the high end, community college fees were almost half of the average four-year cost.


Housing is another key issue for students. Living in dorms is expensive, as are new apartments in unfamiliar cities. Most traditional student aid packages cover tuition and fees only, leaving parents and students to try to make up the difference on housing.

With community college, students have the option to stay close to home – or even to stay at home. While living with mom and dad after high school may not have been a life-long dream, there is no denying the cost advantages of not having to find a new apartment or pay for pricey university housing while attending classes.


Parking at most community colleges is free or available for a nominal fee in a nearby garage. Coastline Community College in California charges $15 per semester for parking and is billing students $7 for parking during the 2012 summer session. Everett Community College in Everett, Washington, assessed a $45 parking charge for full-time students in the 2011-2012 academic year. Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan, offers daily parking passes for $8.80, while South Seattle Community College assesses a $2 daily pass fee.

In contrast, four-year schools offer a dizzying array of mapped zones and tiered parking rates for students who want to park on campus. The University of Michigan had Gold, Blue, Yellow, and Orange parking passes available for the 2011-2012 school year, ranging in price from $1,531 to $74 depending on how near or far away you wanted to park. In California, Berkeley assessed a more modest $327 per semester for commuter students, though residence hall residents paid $1165 for the 2011-2012 school year to park.

At many schools, parking rates are only available by logging in to a university system using a student ID. This can make it hard for families to know just how much they’ll have to pay for a basic expense associated with going to school, and it can be a very painful surprise.

Work Compatibility

Last but not least, community colleges can save money by offering schedules more compatible with working while in school. At four-year institutions, classes offered in the middle of the day are the norm, with few evening or weekend classes available. Community colleges, on the other hand, cater to both full-time students and working community members, offering more night and weekend classes overall.

The ability to work while at school may not be top of mind for students initially, but a year or two with no income will quickly put a job at the top of their priority list. Working while at school – even part-time – can significantly reduce the financial stress of going to school and keep down debt levels. With money coming in regularly, students won’t be borrowing from parents, running up credit card balances, or taking out burdensome student loans just to get an education.

It all boils down to making higher education less expensive. While community colleges may lack the glamor and flash of traditional universities, the cost advantages are clear, and families should be sure to look at all the ways they can save before making final college choices.

©2012 Off the Grid News

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