Is Going to Community College Out of State Worth it?

Key Takeaways:

  • Attending community college out-of-state offers independence and the same benefits as a university but at a lower cost.
  • Out-of-state students can save on tuition at a four-year university by establishing residency during community college.
  • Alternatives like online community colleges and scholarships offer in-state tuition rates and financial aid, reducing overall costs.

An increasing number of students will decide to attend community college for associate degrees and as a bridge to a bachelor’s degree in the coming decade, according to a recent report from the American Association of Community Colleges (AAMC). The question of where they will attend remains unanswered for now, however. Traditionally, most community college students have attended classes close to home, but the higher education landscape is changing, and new trends are emerging. Thus, going to community college out of state is not out of the question, and there may be some advantages to be had depending on your future academic and career plans. In this article, we’ll address the appeal of community college in general, compare community college versus university education, and discuss the pros and cons of going to community college out of state.

What Is a Community College?

Why not start with the basics? After all, any decision regarding your education should be thoroughly contemplated. To answer the question, “What is a community college?” this type of postsecondary institution is a two-year school, sometimes referred to as a junior college, that offers affordable avenues towards vocational degrees, associate degrees as well as degrees designed to transfer to a four-year college or university. Community colleges are typically significantly cheaper than their four-year alternatives in tuition and fees, but they usually lack many resources universities provide to their enrolled students. Historically, community colleges have been viewed as an inferior route to higher education, but this perception is changing as community college programs become more popular and effective. Today, the best community colleges have established reputations for excellence and are regarded as high-quality institutions of higher learning.

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Advantages of Attending Community College at a Local Community College

Most students who elect to attend community college decide to go to class close to home. There are a variety of reasons for this. Below, we’ll discuss a few of the most common justifications for attending community college classes near you.

Slashed Tuition Costs for in state students

It’s a well-known fact that attending a college in the state you live in is the most affordable way to earn a degree. According to U.S. News & World Report, the cost of public in-state tuition is less than half of what it costs to attend a public college out of state. Moreover, some two-year schools also offer in-district discounts, encouraging students to attend nearby community colleges. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that students can save just over $2,150 a year in tuition and fees by attending a two-year school in their district instead of elsewhere in the state. In essence, the closer to home your college is, the cheaper your tuition expenses will be.

Free Tuition in Many States

If saving money on college by electing a two-year school seems too good to be true, then you’ll be surprised to learn that many states even offer free community college tuition to their residents. In fact, nearly half of all states in the United States currently offer free community college tuition, and that number could be rising in the very near future. If passed, the recently proposed American Families Plan will fund free community colleges in all 50 states. There’s really never been a better time to consider community college vs university since some of the best community colleges in the nation are free, that’s right, free community college!

Housing and Miscellaneous Expenses

Saving money on your tuition bill is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the financial advantages of attending a local community college, including free community college. You’ll also have the option to live at home while attending classes instead of paying for a dorm on campus. This can save you thousands per year in tuition and fees. Even if you decide it’s time to move out on your own, you can still have meals with your parents or come home to do laundry. These miscellaneous expenses add up, so anything you can do to lighten the financial load can be beneficial. Students going to community college out of state won’t have these same opportunities.

Advantages of Going to Community College Out of State

Though they aren’t discussed as often, there are arguably just as many benefits of going to community college out of state as there are community college students in a local school.

All the Benefits of Going Away to University—Well, Almost

Attending local community college vs university is a decision many in-state students make to save money towards a bachelor’s degree. Doing so can have costs not associated with your finances, though. For example, you may have to sacrifice your dreams of seeing other parts of the world or establishing your independence away from your parents. If these costs seem too steep, there’s always the option of going to community college out of state. This way, you’ll have a similar experience without the hefty expense of tuition and fees=. In addition, just like going to school locally, community college students receive more one on one time with professors, giving them the chance to broaden both their knowledge and the skills they will need to either transfer to a four year college or enter the job market with a stronger footing.

One drawback to this approach is the lack of student activities offered by two-year community colleges versus four year colleges and universities. If you have dreams of joining a sports team or sorority, for instance, you may have to lower your expectations if you decide to attend a community college. While these schools typically have something to offer in terms of student life, it’s far from what a four-year college or university can provide, even at the best community colleges.

Moreover, there are some other disadvantages of students attending community college vs university, including lower student engagement levels and a less-than-impressive alumni network.

Establishing Residency for Transfer to a State University

Students who are willing to pay more for community college tuition and fees now to save money on university expenses later might consider going to community college out of state to establish residency. This is a risky move, but if it’s executed properly, it has the potential to pay off big. According to The College Board, out-of-state students pay more than $16,000 in additional tuition and fees compared to in-state students who attend public four-year colleges. Thus, if you’re eyeing a school out of your home state, establishing residency before enrollment could be your ticket to big college savings for out of state students. If you’re really looking for the cheapest prices, check out these affordable online colleges for transfer students.

Simply going to community college out of state isn’t enough to establish residency, though. There are quite a few additional hoops you’ll need to jump through to cash in on in-state tuition discounts. To make things even more complicated, each state has its own unique requirements you’ll have to meet to be considered a resident. Moreover, colleges and universities within each state can have additional rules regarding what constitutes residency. Thus, you could be facing a steep learning curve as you seek to ensure your plan is foolproof.

According to In-State Angels, a private consultancy company, the easiest states to establish residency in for tuition for out of state students are:

  • North Dakota
  • South Dakota
  • Arkansas
  • New Mexico
  • Utah
  • Nevada

Some of the states with the most stringent residency requirements include:

  • New York
  • Maine
  • Georgia
  • Pennsylvania
  • Mississippi
  • Colorado
  • Arizona

Physical Residency for At Least One Year

Generally speaking, the primary requirement for out of state students who want to establish residency in a state is a physical presence in that state for a period of at least one year. Usually, this has to be continued residence, so students going to community college out of state will need to stay there over breaks, including the summer term.

Financial Independence

A major obstacle many students face when going to community college out of state to establish residency is the issue of financial independence. Unfortunately, it’s not enough simply to live in the state; you also have to be self-sufficient when it comes to your finances. That’s a lot to ask for many college students who depend on their parents for some or all of their support. Thus, if you’re serious about moving away to community college, you need to have some plans in place for getting a job once you’re there. While some states require just a part-time job, others may demand that you work full-time to meet residency requirements as an in state student.  Depending on the state, you may also have to show evidence that you file taxes separate from your parents or prove that you pay your tuition yourself.

Intent to Remain in the State

State governments are on to the tactic of students going to community colleges out of state to establish residency for tuition discounts. However, these states want students who take advantage of in-state tuition to remain in the state to contribute financially to the local economy. That’s why students who move from one state to another for college must establish not only physical residency and financial independence but the intent to remain in the state as well. Intent can be difficult to prove; depending on where you’re moving, you may have to demonstrate that you rent or own property in the state or write a personal statement of intent describing your current and future plans.

A Note About Transferring Credits

Going to community college out of state to transfer to a university has its own unique set of hurdles to overcome. Unfortunately, many students find out too late that the university they want to attend for their bachelor’s degree program won’t accept all of their community college credits. When this problem occurs, it usually results in a lot of wasted time and money. The bottom line? You could end up forfeiting all of the monetary benefits of establishing residency (i.e., in-state tuition discounts) if the school you’re interested in won’t accept the credits you’ve earned. You could even put your degree in jeopardy.

There’s good news, though—many of the state’s community colleges have articulation agreements by partnering with colleges and universities that make the transfer process much smoother for students. These agreements act as your guarantee that the credits you earn from a two-year school will still carry weight once you transfer to a four year college. Just remember, knowledge is power. Find out everything there is to know about your school’s transfer policy prior to enrollment.

Alternatives to Going to Community College Out of State

As you can see, going to community college out of state is not a foolproof method of qualifying for discounted tuition. Luckily, there are other ways of achieving the same goal that require a lot less hassle.

Online Community College

If you’re willing to consider distance education, attending community college online may be a good alternative. More and more community colleges are beginning to offer some of their degree programs via distance learning. As an added benefit, these programs are usually available at in-state tuition costs for community college students no matter where you live. Of course, there are many things to consider before deciding whether online learning is the right fit for you. Chiefly, these types of college programs require a great deal of self-discipline since learning is primarily self-paced. In addition, online instruction sometimes lacks interactivity, meaning you may feel more isolated than you would in a traditional, in-person learning environment. Still, there are loads of benefits associated with online learning, including flexible schedules and the possibility of free community college options, that free up time for life outside of the classroom. Online community college graduates will find increased opportunities whether entering the job market or going on to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

Scholarships and Reciprocity Agreements for Out-of-State Students

Community college students attending the best community colleges and universities in the country have long relied on federal financial aid to help foot the bill for their educational expenses. But did you know that there are scholarships specifically designed for out-of-state students? It’s a fact. If your academics qualify you for one of these financial aid awards, it could be a better solution than going to community college out of state to qualify for reduced tuition. Moreover, some states have reciprocity agreements that allow residents of nearby states to attend their universities at reduced tuition rates.

Summary and Takeaways

If you started out wondering, “What is a community college?” then you’ve probably taken in a lot of information within the last few minutes. To recap, here are some takeaways students need to remember if they’re considering going to out of state community colleges.

  • Community colleges are two-year schools for students who wish to earn a vocational degree or transfer to a university after earning an associate’s degree. Community college graduates can either enter the job market right away or transfer to a four-year school to pursue a bachelor’s degree.
  • In-state tuition is cheaper than out-of-state tuition, for both community colleges and universities.
  • One way to save money on a university degree is to establish residency by going to community college out of state, but this strategy is complex.
  • There are other ways to save money on tuition even if you live out of state such as attending school online or seeking out scholarships or finding schools with reciprocity agreements.

Frequently-Asked Questions About Going to Community College Out of State

Whether you’re going to community college out of state or near your home, there’s still a lot to consider. Before you take the leap, make sure you get the answers to all of your questions. Below, our editors have compiled a list of some of the most frequently asked questions about attending a two-year school via a non-traditional pathway. Keep in mind, though, that the information we provide here is general in nature. Please direct any specific questions about particular schools, programs, and policies to an admissions counselor.

Q: Are community college credits transferrable out of state?

A: Sometimes. Credit transfer policies vary by university, so it’s best for community college students to check the school’s website for details or speak to an admissions counselor.

Q: How much is community college out of state?

A: Out-of-state tuition varies for community colleges, but you can expect to pay thousands of dollars more per year than an in-state student. Often, community college students receive financial aid packages that can help with these increased costs.

Q: Can you attend community college out of state?

A: Yes, but you will be required to pay out-of-state tuition unless and until you can establish residency in the state where you’re studying. Keep in mind, though, that admissions policies for different community colleges can vary.

Q: Can I attend community college online?

A: Yes. Online enrollment of community college students is growing. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), fifteen percent of students enrolled in a two-year school attend classes entirely online.

Q: How many online community colleges are there?

A: The number of community colleges offering their programs online is constantly growing. Currently, Niche ranks over 100 online community colleges in America.

Q: Do online students pay out-of-state tuition?

A: Not typically. As with many online schools, students at community colleges receive in-state discounts for their distance education to attract online learners


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