What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of a Community College?

Perhaps you’re considering college vs university advantages and disadvantages. Continuing your education is the first step toward your future professional success! According to recent employment reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), people with a postsecondary degree, like an undergraduate degree, have less trouble finding a job. They make more money too. Of course, deciding where to attend school can be a challenging decision to make. There are many factors to consider and many different schools to choose from. We get it! That’s why we’ve prepared this extensive guide detailing 2-year vs 4-year college pros and cons. Below, we’ll dissect this issue for students, discussing both the cons of community college as well as the pros of community college.

Two-Year Colleges vs University Pros and Cons: Dispelling the Myth

Before we dive too deep into the issue, addressing the elephant in the room is essential. Critics of community colleges and technical schools think these two-year colleges are inferior. When it comes to the benefits of community college, these pseudo-higher education “experts” don’t think there’s any discussion to have. Their opinion is based mainly on subjective bias instead of facts. They think traditional colleges and four-year universities win, despite individual students’ academic goals, needs, or circumstances. The facts don’t support this claim, though. The reality is that there are many compelling reasons to attend a two-year community college. And there are just as many factors that may swing your decision towards a traditional university. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to choose the higher education route that best serves your specific situation and circumstances. Factors can include things like:

  • budget
  • scheduling needs
  • career goals
  • academic success

Benefits of Attending Community College Versus University

According to the American Association of Community Colleges, more than a thousand public community colleges across the US enroll nearly 12 million students each year. This alone should be a glaring sign that many community colleges indeed have merit. Otherwise, why would millions of students flock to them each semester? Here are some reasons you’ll want to consider community colleges when considering your plans for post-secondary education.

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High Return-On-Investment

When you decide to attend a postsecondary school of any kind, you’re investing in your future. Despite what you may have heard, investments aren’t just for brokers or big businesses. The truth is, any time you spend a significant chunk of money (or even time) on something, you’re making an investment. Higher education meets this definition. It is considered a significant investment toward future earnings. Thus, you’ll want to make a wise investment when choosing the type of college or four-year university to attend.

Any investor will tell you that the success of your initial investment depends on its return—that is, how much it yields you over the long term. Investments with the highest returns must have a small initial cost and a significant profit. A community college education can potentially yield a high return on investment (ROI). It is due to cheaper tuition costs and the potential for lucrative salaries upon graduation. Let’s break down the details of a community college’s potential return on investment. We will discuss the two main components of ROI for a two-year college: cost and yield.

The Lower Cost of a Community College Vs Four-Year University Education

The price tags of two-year degrees have long been a selling point for community colleges over a four-year university. According to recent data from The College Board, attending one of these two-year public colleges costs students an average of just $3,770 a year. Most students pay more than $10,000 annually to attend a four-year university in their state. Costs can be over $27,000 to attend a four-year university out of state. More and more students who graduate from public universities do so with extensive student loan debt.

When evaluating your best options, community colleges can also have added cost benefits. For example, community college students usually live at home and commute to campus. This can save thousands of dollars per year on the cost of room and board. By some estimates, students who live on campus at four-year universities pay over $10,000 a year for housing and meals. This is besides the cost of tuition at a larger institution, and it only adds to many student loan debt for many graduates of public universities. Private universities may cost even more.

Another perk of community colleges versus four-year universities is that they are increasingly associated with free tuition, thanks to state funding. Yes, you read that correctly. It sounds too good to be true, but depending on where you live, you may be eligible for no-cost tuition to fund a two-year degree at a local community college of your choice. About half of the country’s states currently offer residents free community college. More states are considering offering two-year degrees at no cost to community college students. The flip side of this is that community colleges without free tuition may not offer as much financial aid as a four-year university, including private universities.

High Wages with a Two-Year College Degree

The low cost of attending community college, even out of state, is widely known. But its potential profitability is a less familiar topic of conversation when discussing community college versus university benefits. In fact, the consensus seems to be that students who attend a four-year university will make more money upon graduation than those who earn their credentials from a two-year school. To be fair, there is some evidence backing up this claim. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that individuals with a bachelor’s degree make an average of $367 more per week than those with an associate’s credential. On its face, this looks like an argument favoring four-year universities. But there’s more to the story. These numbers do not reveal the many high-paying jobs available with an associate’s degree. These jobs span various career aspirations. For total transparency, we list some of these lucrative occupations associated with a two-year degree, and their mean annual wages. These numbers are from the BLS:

  • Diagnostic Medical Sonographers: $70,380
  • MRI Technologists: $74,690
  • Dental Hygienists: $77,090
  • Web Developers/Digital Designers: $77,200
  • Nuclear Medicine Technologists: $79,590
  • Nuclear Technicians: $84,190
  • Radiation Therapists: $86,850
  • Air Traffic Controllers: $130,420

Transfer Potential

Another thing to consider when weighing the ROI of community colleges is their transfer potential. Many two-year schools offer associate’s degree programs for university transfer students. These are programs specifically designed for students who intend to transfer to a public university upon graduation from their two-year degree program. Moreover, most of these two-year colleges have articulation agreements with nearby college and university programs. These agreements ensure that the credits you earn through the community college will be 100% transferable to a bachelor’s degree program.

The benefits of attending community college (or other two-year colleges) to earn associate degrees and then transferring to a four-year college or university for a bachelor’s degree are clear. Primarily, you’ll get all the advantages of a bachelor’s degree at a lower cost than students who start at four-year public schools or private universities. This is especially true if you select an online college that is cheap for transfer students. You’ll also be on track for various graduate degrees and graduate programs.

The community college also allows undecided students to explore various majors affordably. Moreover, students who have struggled academically in the past have the opportunity to work on raising their GPA. They can then apply to their university of choice with associate degrees already in their back pockets.

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Employment Upon Graduation: Community College Vs University

There are many benefits of attending community college and transferring to a four-year school for a bachelor’s degree. But it’s not the only good option you’ll have after finishing your degree from a two-year school. Community colleges are well-known for adequately preparing students for the workforce. They do this through hands-on learning opportunities, internships, and practicums. That’s not to mention the many fast-growing occupations that require only an associate’s degree. Some of the positions that are in high demand are also those associated with the most lucrative wages. Below, we highlight some of these associate degree job titles. The BLS has reported these as having the highest growth potential within the next decade. Growth projections are listed by percentage:

  • Occupational Therapy Assistants: 32%
  • Respiratory Therapists: 19%
  • Legal Support: 14%
  • Diagnostic Medical Sonographers: 12%
  • Web Developers and Digital Designers: 8%

Supportive Learning Environments

Money shouldn’t be the only deciding factor when evaluating 2-year vs 4-year college pros and cons. Another checkmark favoring community colleges vs university is their distinct learning environment. Unlike some of the larger colleges and universities in the country, community colleges offer intimate and supportive learning environments. These settings benefit students who prefer one-on-one instruction or have specific learning needs and preferences. That’s not to say these environments aren’t available at four-year schools, but they’re less common. For example, professors at some of the more prominent four-year schools are so busy with their research that they barely have time to teach classes. This is often the case at the undergraduate level. Thus, many introductory courses are taught by teaching assistants.

When you attend community college at a two-year school, you can expect your professors to teach their classes. And as a bonus, they’re more likely to have real-world experience in the discipline they teach. University professors often go from being PhD students to teaching a classroom full of undergraduates. While they’re plenty knowledgeable, they may not have any vocational experience to speak of. That could impact your learning in the long run. It could be why many community college graduates tend to be more prepared for the workforce following graduation than their university peers.

Flexible Schedules

Another of the benefits of community college versus university has to do with scheduling. Since community colleges cater to non-traditional students, they’re much more likely than universities to offer flexible class schedules. This includes evening, part-time, hybrid, and online options. Of course, you can take advantage of these scheduling opportunities no matter your age or life situation. Having a less demanding course schedule can free up your time for other things. Examples include a job, raising children, or participating in activism or volunteer work.

Disadvantages of Community College

The community college has its benefits. Still, it’s not a perfect higher education solution. And it’s not for everyone. When evaluating a community college vs a university, you must look at both sides equally. Thus, spotlighting community colleges’ drawbacks is necessary for the decision-making process. Below, we’ll address prospective students’ concerns when deciding whether to attend a community college over a four-year college or university.

Lack of Student Activities

Among the most commonly voiced complaints about community colleges in discussing 2-year vs 4-year college pros and cons is their lack of student activities. The issue of student activities is one of the key differences to consider. Community colleges tend to be no-frills schools. They’re primarily focused purely on academics and career preparation. That usually means no (or few) extracurricular activities like sports and student clubs/organizations. Some two-year schools do try to create some sort of student life. Still, you won’t find the vibrant atmosphere of large universities. There won’t be Greek life, and the club activities and sports teams typical of many universities will be more limited.

Depending on your personality and preferences, you may perceive this as one of the more significant disadvantages of community college. And you wouldn’t be alone in this opinion. Many students aspire to college not just for academic preparation but for the experience as well. If you want to go to college to meet new people, experience new things, or have fun after your studies are done for the day, then four-year universities may be your better option.

Low Student Engagement Compared to A Larger University

In addition to (or perhaps as a result of) the lack of student activity at a community college, student engagement also tends to be a problem. The engagement deficit among community college students contributes to the stigma of community colleges. It could make them seem like catch-alls for underachievers or students who can’t get into a large university. What does a lack of engagement look like? Well, it seems students pursuing a technical degree at a two-year school are less eager to participate in class discussions. They may be less likely to go the extra mile on an assignment or study outside the classroom. There could be many different explanations for this phenomenon. A 2019 survey of community college students found that they experienced difficulty finding time to study due to long hours at work, for example. It stands to reason that students who have just come off a long shift could be less than excited to participate in a class or commit to group work. Regardless of the reasons, low student engagement can have a stifling effect on a learning environment. Imagine being the only student in your class to complete the required reading ahead of discussion day, for instance, or being forced to do the majority of work required for a group assignment.

Many universities are more likely to attract ambitious and even competitive students in academics. In turn, classes tend to be filled with lively discussions and debates. These class conversations are often propelled by students vying for professors’ approval and the grades that come with it.

Conclusion: Community College or Four-Year University?

The debate surrounding community college vs university pros and cons could continue. The truth is that there are just as many benefits of community college versus university as there are cons of community college and vice versa. Ultimately, only one choice is right for you, though. Our advice is to do your research and seriously self-reflect before making that final decision. This will make the choice to attend a traditional four-year university or community college easier. Ask yourself what you really want to do after graduation, and then make two tentative plans—one for community college and one for university. Calculate the costs of each plan, including any financial aid you plan to receive, as well as college vs university pros and cons. Also, don’t forget to factor in the benefits along with the drawbacks of going to community college (or technical schools) and then transferring and the drawbacks of this particular approach. And as a final word of advice, don’t let others sway your decision one way or another. Unless they’re an expert in college and university attendance, they really have no business advising you about best college plans. After all, it’s your time and money on the line. And in the end, it’s your future career path as well!

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