Can one save by going to a residential area college?

In 1959, a Air Force veteran moved to La to interrupt in to the entertainment industry. He took employment as a clerk at Los Angeles City College so he could save for expensive acting lessons at Pasadena Playhouse.

Learning of his plans, a colleague at LACC reminded him that classes there have been free or nearly free, so why pay more? Therefore the young man signed up for Theatre 101, 102, and the class that would change his life: Speech. 

His name was Morgan Freeman, and he went on to win an Oscar in 2004 and play God twice, crediting his college experience as a launching pad. 

Even though his colleague’s advice is now Six decades old, it still rings true today; why pay more? After all, tuition at private and public non-profit universities has skyrocketed 50% to 65% since 2000 adjusting for inflation, whereas the price for community college has hardly budged. 

How much does college cost? 

For the 2022-2022 school year, the average price of annual tuition at college was around $3,700. However, the “average” here doesn’t quite tell the entire story. 

First, 24 out of 50 states offer tuition-free community colleges. If you reside in the north, around the west coast, or perhaps in top of the midwest you’re probably fortunate. 

Next, states that do charge tuition for community colleges have a tendency to offer generous grants and tax advantages to most students. For a conservative estimate, intend to pay around $5,000 each year or less for community college.

However, don’t forget to factor room and board into your budget. Based on in which you choose to live and learn, room and board alone can be well over $10,000 for the year. 

How much can you save by visiting college? 

In their 2022-2022 Pricing Trends Report, College Board offers a pretty clear picture of methods much it can save you by going to college versus a public, or private, four-year college. 

I did some math and created a table of methods much you could save should you go to community college for your bachelor’s degree instead of a private or public four-year institution (yes, community colleges offer bachelor’s degrees, too!).

I also considered just how much you could lay aside if you opt for a two-year associate degree at college vs. a four-year bachelor’s degree otherwise since a lot of folks choose that choice for the six-figure savings. 

  Annual savings Total savings on four-year Bachelor's degree Total savings – two-year Associate's degree vs. four-year Bachelor's degree
Community college vs. public
four-year in-state
$9,230 $36,920 $62,360
Community college vs. public four-year out-of-state $25,610 $102,440 $127,880
Community college vs. private four-year $37,150 $148,600 $174,040

As you are able to plainly see, the amount you’ll save by going to college versus a conventional four-year institution is staggering. Maybe that’s why my pop accustomed to joke that I should drive a brand new Aston Martin to community college and save money over going to a four-year as I did. 

Why is college so much cheaper than four-year universities? 

Aside from being publicly funded, the #1 reason college is so affordable is low overhead. 

Community colleges are, in most cases, lean operations. Many of them lack giant campuses, fancy dorms, and teams that make college seem like, well, college. However, as a result of not having to maintain all that infrastructure, vocational schools are able to afford to charge much, a smaller amount. 

Plus, being that they are often non-residential, community colleges allow students to reside wherever, with whomever they need. Coping with mom and dad when you get the associate degree may preclude you from living your Van Wilder fantasies, but it’ll help you save thousands by graduation. 

By contrast, many four-year institutions require students to live on campus for his or her freshman year, and in some cases, even through junior or senior year. Worse still, the cost of sharing a tiny dorm with a roommate can be just as expensive as having a local apartment all to yourself. 

So between low overhead and versatile housing, vocational schools can afford to charge significantly less for tuition than big four-year institutions. In a way, I view college as the “store-bought brand” of school. Sure, it lacks the flamboyant packaging and brand recognition, but underneath, it’s a similar product for a fraction of the price. 

However, when it comes to your degree, some say that brand recognition still matters. 

How much are you able to make with a degree from the college? 

CNN Money did a whole story on how much you can generate having a two-year degree from community college versus a four-year degree from the traditional college or university, as well as their findings were pretty wild. 

In Tennessee and Virginia, graduates having a two-year associate degree from college earn, on average, thousands of more than holders of bachelor’s degrees. 

That’s because there are a lot of graduates with generalized bachelor’s degrees and not enough with specialized associate degrees. The American workforce is starving for job seekers with so-called “middle skills” provided by associate degrees; “lab technicians, teachers when they are young programs, computer engineers, draftsmen, radiation therapists, paralegals, and machinists” are high-paying roles that only require a two-year degree. 

In fact, here are the very best 10 highest-paying roles that only require an affiliate degree based on Forbes. The list comes from 2012, but it should at least serve to illustrate the value of the two-year degree. 

Role Median salary
Air Traffic Controller $108,040
Construction Manager $83,860
Radiation Therapist $74,980
Nuclear Medicine Technologist $68,560
Dental Hygienist $68,250
Nuclear Technician $68,090
Registered Nurse $64,690
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers $64,380
Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technicians $58,080
Electrical and Electrical Engineering $56,040
Source: Forbes

Unsurprisingly they are mostly STEM roles, however, many non-STEM roles in journalism, education, administration, etc. may only need a two-year degree. To discover, google “[your industry] associate degree earnings” and find out what you could find.

It’s worth taking into consideration additionally that graduates of two-year degrees have two big inherent advantages over grads having a bachelor’s degree. First, they’ll graduate with magnitudes less debt. Second, they can begin work two years sooner. 

In the short term, college grads can earn similar, even higher salaries than their four-year competitors. During the period of an entire career, however, they discovered that two-year grads earn $500,000 a lot more than high school graduates but $500,000 less than four-year grads. 

The underlying theory is that a bachelor’s degree is paramount to raised management roles, a lot of college graduates will return to school at some stage in their career to secure their four-year degree. 

What would be the benefits of college?

Let’s put everything together. What are the clear advantages of attending community college versus a conventional four-year private or public university?

Cost savings

The biggest benefit of attending college may be the staggering cost savings. Even when you’re getting in-state tuition at your local university, you’ll save $60,000 over 4 years if you get your bachelor’s at college instead. 

If you go searching for college over the ideal private university, you could lay aside your family more than $150,000, not comprising interest owed to Sallie Mae. 

Two-year degrees

Community colleges offer two-year associate degrees that are magnitudes cheaper than four-year bachelor’s degrees and will enable you to enter the workforce sooner. With a two-year degree, you’ll graduate sooner, with considerably less debt (if any), and will be able to begin earning a full-time income twice as fast. 

Marketability and employment prospects

According to USA Today, employment growth for graduates with an associate degree is “surging.” During Q1 and Q2 of 2022, employment for grads with an associate degree or some college increased 578,000, compared to just 314,000 for Americans with bachelor’s degrees. 

Although the American job market is screaming for more college grads, most students continue to be defaulting to four-year programs. That means that when you get an affiliate degree, you won't just save gobs of cash, but you’ll tight on competition in the job market as well. 

Flexible housing

Four-year institutions often require students to reside on-campus and purchase meals plan, neither which comes cheap. Typically, these students pays between $44,000 and $48,000 in room and board expenses alone over 4 years. 

By contrast, vocational schools are non-residential, meaning students commute to and from campus using their own place. You are able to accept a friend, get a mortgage, or simply choose to accept your parents when you attend college, saving thousands on rent along the way (provided your mother and father offer you a free ride!). 

Flexible learning

Individual courses are far cheaper at vocational schools than at four-year institutions, meaning you can study a brand new language, switch majors, or just take a semester off without a major effect on your individual finances. 

Plus, some four-year institutions generally operate on a nine-five schedule, community colleges have a tendency to offer night classes to make life easier for students with jobs (or kids). 

What are the disadvantages of community college? 

Lack of campus life

One from the leading disadvantages of attending community college is that some students seem like they’re passing up on the standard college experience.

As a graduate of a four-year program, I totally could’ve gone with no loud sports games, crazy parties, and overall debauchery. However, I also joined countless clubs, was a radio DJ, coupled with a large number of conversations with interesting people during my four years: all experiences I might not have access to had, a minimum of towards the same extent, at college. 

There’s something about the traditional American college experience that’s difficult to put into words. It’s absolutely not worth the price distinction between a two-year along with a four-year degree, but it’s worth mentioning because it’s something which a lot of community college students reportedly miss. 

Low graduation rate

Community colleges have a significantly lower graduation rate when compared with four-year institutions. According to the Hechinger Report, only about 4 in 10 community college enrollees graduate within six years, and a full quarter of those who begin in the fall don’t return for that spring semester. 

It’s hard to precisely quantify why graduation rates at vocational schools are so low, but there are several popular theories. Most professionals point to the lack of campus life; with no social networking of friends going through the same classes and experiences as you are, it can be hard to stay focused and motivated. Others point to the truth that many enrollees in two-year degrees are first-generation university students and don't have the guidance or familial support to obtain through school.

Finally, for a lot of, it might simply be an economic issue. Even though college is comparatively affordable, thousands per year is still hard on the budget. 

Limited choices for classes or degrees

Compared to a giant four-year institution with an undergrad enrollment within the thousands, your local college may have significantly fewer options for classes and associate/bachelor’s degrees. 

Statistically, you’ll probably switch majors at least one time in college. So even if you’re determined to be considered a nurse, as well as your neighborhood college has an excellent nursing program, you might like to ensure that they provide your next and third choices, also. 

Lack of networking

There’s a typical stating that when you pay six figures for a four-year degree you’re not necessarily paying for an education; you’re spending money on use of that school’s professors and networking. 

It’s extremely subjective if the quality of education varies between college and four-year college. What’s inescapably true, however, is that big-name companies and educators will be drawn to big-name schools. If you wish to learn your trade from a well-known industry expert or celebrated researcher inside your field, you’re more likely to obtain that option at a four-year institution. 

Furthermore, if you’re looking for a generalized, entry-level role within a Fortune 500 company like Bain & Co. or Google, the chance be more effective with a four-year degree. 

You may need a four-year degree for a promotion

On that note, it’s worth reiterating that over the course of a 40-year career, holders of the four-year degree will make $500,000 more than holders of a two-year degree. That’s because many upper management positions will need a bachelor’s degree. 

You can research your specific industry or role to find out in which you might hit a glass ceiling together with your associate degree. If it’s very early on, you may you will want an associate degree and transferring credits towards a bachelor’s degree to save time and money. 

Who should (and shouldn’t) consider college? 

Community college might be for you personally if:

  • You’re looking to graduate with little-to-no debt. If you’ve exhausted scholarship options and are facing down a six-figure loan to go to a four-year school, you might want to strongly consider an associate degree. It’s magnitudes less expensive for the short term, and you'll be able to transfer credits later for a full bachelor’s.
  • You’re looking to start earning full-time income ASAP. You may be looking to repay existing debt or simply retire early. In either case, a quick way to start earning high-five figures would be to graduate with a specialized technical degree from a community college.
  • You’re already interested in a “middle-skill” position. Knowing you need to be an aura Traffic Controller, Preschool Teacher, or another role that only needs a two-year degree to get going, why waste the extra two years and thousands of dollars on the bachelor’s degree?
  • You’d prefer to explore your opportunities. If you’re unsure where to go or how to proceed after high school, taking classes at college while working part-time is an affordable, low-risk option to investing in a four-year college. Within my personal opinion, it’s also a lot more conducive for your professional development.

By contrast, a community college might not be for you if:

  • Your chosen career path needs a bachelor’s degree or higher. If you’re certain that you want to work with a large Four consulting firm or visit med school, then a bachelor’s degree is most likely a required step. Still, you might be able to save a bit on tuition by attending community college and transferring credits to a name-brand college. Just be sure to seek information!
  • You’re entitled to a scholarship. It’s hard to compete with a full ride! Nearly 3% of undergrads in four-year programs are paying $0 to visit school. The chances of you securing a full-ride scholarship are much higher if you’re a minority, high-achiever, and/or star athlete. So before investing in college on the basis of less expensive, perform some research and gauge your odds of securing a full-ride to your dream school.
  • You highly value the traditional college experience. I don’t think anything I’m going to mention is worth going $100,000 into debt for, but if you’re seeking a tie-breaker between community college and a four-year institution, you may take into account that the second is much more prone to offer the “traditional American college experience” with crazy parties, frisbees around the quad, and endless opportunities to interact with other students through clubs and extracurriculars. 


While community college might not be able to offer some aspects of the standard college experience like clubs, quads, and TikTok-worthy debauchery, its overall value proposition can’t be prevented. 

A two-year associate degree at the local community college can cost less than $10,000 and immediately launch you into a career paying in the high-five figures. The credits you earn could also apply towards a four-year degree at a name-brand university later, saving you tens of thousands in tuition. Finally, the flexibleness and low overhead of attending community college enables you to learn inside a low-cost, low-pressure environment. 

If you’re looking to avoid debt and launch a career more quickly, college is an excellent choice. 

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