Community College: The Smartest Bet in Higher EducationAsk anyone you know where the smartest people in America go to college.

Chances are you'll get all the same answers: Harvard, MIT, Yale, etc.

But I don't think that's true. If you ask me, the smartest people go to community colleges: What's smarter than saving $100,000 and managing to get an education that is just as good, and perhaps even better, than you can get at many top universities?

First, the cost side: Tuition and fees at the average community college run $2,544 -- and for most families, a tax credit will cover most of that amount, making the cost of attending a community college negligible. By comparison, four-year private colleges charge an average of $26,273 a year in tuition and fees. Then, factor in the significant savings that come from living at home while attending a community college for the first two years of a bachelor's degree.

But what about the quality of education? As Marty Nemko reports, studies show no relationship between college costs and the quality of learning: Students who attend community colleges learn just as much as students who attend four-year colleges. Most importantly, students who transfer to four-year colleges from two-year colleges are just as likely to earn bachelor's degrees as those who start at four-year colleges.

Student satisfaction? As I wrote last week on DailyFinance, surveys show that community college students report higher levels of satisfaction with their programs than those attending four-year colleges.

In other words, there doesn't appear to be any financial or education advantage to be attained from starting at a four-year college; and yet most families with college-bound high school seniors fork over tens of thousands of dollars or more for degrees -- and lard their kids down with debt in the process.

That's why, if you ask me, the smartest college grads are the ones who started at two-year colleges.

Zac Bissonnette's Debt-Free U: How I Paid For An Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, Or Mooching Off My Parents was called "best and most troubling book ever about the college admissions process" by The Washington Post.

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I graduated high school last year. I should've made this move instead of going head on to a 4yr. I am currently in a situation to where I probably can't go back to school because I can't pay for it. This gives me a peace of mind if I have to go back to a CC. I did one semester at a CC and enjoy it. Thanks for the article!!!

August 07 2013 at 9:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I agree to this site Thank you given information.

May 13 2011 at 2:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This reminds me of the story of Kira Cassels, the obviously smart girl who got into 11 full priced colleges but chose the cheaper community college. She'll be a better hire than the princess that ran up hundreds of thousands of debt in the fancy places.

August 31 2010 at 4:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

According to the College Board, the average cost for students who attend a 4 year public college is around $17,000 per year; that average cost jumps up to around $34,000 a year for students of private universities. If you are a member of a family whose financial resources are limited, these costs may prohibit your college choices. However, making use of financial aid may allow you to attend a more expensive university, so do not automatically cross a school off of your list simply due to costs. Choosing a school that is close to home will also help you save on costs—your family will surely welcome your visits back home for laundry catch-up and grocery restocks! The best advice is to narrow your possible choices down based on a holistic view: keep academics, social atmosphere, and costs all in mind as you think about where you will attend college.

August 31 2010 at 5:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Saint Louis Community College is by far, more economical than going to say, Washington University. Admittedly, the Wash U. sheepskin looks far more impressive, on the wall. However, if you are there to learn "state of the art" functional skills, the Community College beats them, hands down. Why? Because many of the teachers in the "Community" work day jobs, in industry. I was taking various data communications, telecom and networking classes and we had teachers who were also holding down jobs at MCI (new name?). Also, we had surprise speakers, like the man who put in place the very first cell towers, in Saint Louis. We learned not only about history, but current and sometimes, even future plans. My questioning of a Soutwestern Bell (AT&T) speaker, was able to flush out some details of major conversions, that were occurring in the cell phone industry. We also got other "scuttle-butt" information, regarding tariffs and pricing in the telecom industry, long before it appeared in the newspapers and magazines. You cannot beat learning from active professionals, who are in the field during the day, and teaching or lecturing at night. Still, having a diploma from Washington University, in St. Louis, is nothing to sneeze at! Say you are into psychopharmacolgy or medical research,,, Then, I would pay the extra $100,000 and go to Wash U. They are doing things in their laboratories which will soon be in Popular Science and the journals. So, it depends on what you intend to study, whether you get a scholarship and how much money that you have. I give a thumbs up, to both institutions!

August 31 2010 at 1:45 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I agree with msot of it except the article cleverly works around the fact that its best not to graduate and receive a degree from community college. As most people that hire will always take a private college student over a community college student. Associates degree/'s value is about the vale of a high school diploma in most career jobs.

August 30 2010 at 10:41 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Commu ity Colleges are the way to go. Primarily, t gives the student the opportunity of a higher level of education, and it teaches them to be independent. It also affords the families the economic benefit, of not having to pay Tuition and Room and Board immediately upon ther offsprings graduation from High School. It also gives the student the opportunity to investigate the demands made by a College Education, and still have the comforts of their home, and all of its improvements. I belive, that going from High School to a Four year residnet college, can be a very difficult shock for teenagers to confront.

August 30 2010 at 10:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Community college made a huge difference in my life. I was able to finish an AA in a little over two years at minimal cost and then transfer to a State school to complete my BA, all while working. I completed a Masters a few years after that while serving as a commisioned officer in the USAF. Lots of opportunity out there in America if you are willing to grab it, work hard, and sacrifice for a larger goal.

August 30 2010 at 8:12 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I went to community college. I have an AS degree in a health related field. I make $85,000 a year (gross) Not to shabby for a two-year degree.

August 30 2010 at 7:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have to agree with the article. I started at a community college and now have a PhD, as well as serving in an executive position. I credit the community college with providing an education to those who sought it and wanted to achieve higher learning. It wasn't like I saw when I entered the four year schools where parents shoved the kids off to for four years. It all depends on whether or not the student wants a higher education or not AND willing to work for it.

August 30 2010 at 7:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply