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Considering community college? Here are the pros and cons
http://www.savingforcollege.com/articles/considering-community-college-here-are-the-pros-and-cons-861

Posted: 2015-10-29

by Kathryn Flynn

Today's college graduate leaves campus with around $35,000 in student loan debt, and when you include interest payments, they'll end up paying $42,385 over the life of the loan. According to a recent study by NerdWallet, these high monthly repayment obligations combined with low starting salaries could prohibit saving, and push the average retirement age up to 75.

Fortunately, there are ways to avoid excessive student debt. Parents of young children can build savings with a 529 plan. Earnings in a 529 plan grow tax-free and are not taxed when you withdraw the money to pay for college. Your state may also offer additional tax benefits for residents such as a deduction for 529 plan contributions.

But what if your child is heading to college soon and you haven't been saving? For these parents, it might be time to rethink your options. According to the College Board, tuition and fees for a four-year, private university will cost around $134,600 at today's prices (assuming prices increase 5% annually). But if your child spent his first two years at a community college, you'd only pay around $77,000 for tuition and fees.

For many, the stigma of community college is changing, and for more reasons than just the price (although that's probably the top reason). Is it really worth you or your child going into excessive debt, just to pay for a college "experience"? That might depend on other factors, such as what your child will study and his expected starting salary. But don't assume that a four-year school is best for everyone. Here are some pros and cons of starting out at a community college:

RELATED: Michelle Singletary shares her thoughts on community college in this webcast

Pros:

1. The price is right. For the 2014-15 school year, students paid $3,347 in tuition and fees to attend a local community college, versus $9,139 for a four-year public in-state university and $31,231 for a private college. And there are a number of high-paying jobs that only require an Associate Degree. For example, the average dental hygienist earns more in their early career than the average starting salary of someone with a four-year degree.

2. Close to home. Another perk of attending community college is that students can live at home with mom and dad. In addition to saving around $10,000 that you would have paid in room and board costs at a four-year school, students can also eat meals and do laundry at home.

3. More night classes. Community colleges generally offer more night and weekend classes to accommodate schedules of students who work. If your child wants to eventually move on to a four-year school but money is tight, a local two-year college might give them an opportunity to put away some extra cash while they earn credit hours.

RELATED: 4 ways families are tackling high college costs

4. Smaller class sizes. Some families may have the means to pay for a traditional four-year university, but their child might not be ready emotionally or academically for the transition. In fact, according to a study from Pearson Foundation, 52% of community college students felt that high school did not prepare them for college-level coursework. With an average class size around 20, students can build closer relationships with their professors and are able to get more personalized instruction.

5. You can use your 529 money. Savings in a 529 plan can be withdrawn tax-free for any eligible post-secondary education including community college. Although if you have enough cash to pay for your child's first two years out-of-pocket, you might want to let your 529 plan savings compound until it's time to transfer to a more expensive to a four-year school.

RELATED: 5 types of students who benefit from 529 plans

Cons

1. Limited degree options. Typically, community colleges only offer two-year, or Associate Degrees. If your child wants to pursue a career that requires a bachelor's degree or higher level of education, they will have to eventually move on.

2. Unmotivated students. Although perceptions are changing, there are still many students who end up at a community college simply because they have nowhere else to go. To separate these students from those who plan on continuing their education, many community colleges now offer Honors programs that serve as a transfer pipeline to four-year bachelor's degree programs.

3. No traditional "college experience". Life on campus at a community college is far different than that of a four-year state university. While many do offer opportunities to get involved, there are many students who work or have other obligations that prevent them from being able to participate in anything beyond their coursework.

RELATED: The biggest college planning mistake parents make

4. Not all classes are transferable. Before your child takes any classes at the local two-year school, meet with an admissions advisor at his desired four-year school to ensure they will transfer for full credit. Your child can also use this time to look for a bachelor's degree program that is best suited for their major and future career choice.

5. Classes don't prepare you for a four-year college. Community college classes tend to have a much lighter workload than courses from a four-year university, which can sometimes be an issue for those who plan on transferring.

RELATED: Want to land a great job? Here's where you should go to school

Today's college graduate leaves campus with around $35,000 in student loan debt, and when you include interest payments, they'll end up paying $42,385 over the life of the loan. According to a recent study by NerdWallet, these high monthly repayment obligations combined with low starting salaries could prohibit saving, and push the average retirement age up to 75.

Fortunately, there are ways to avoid excessive student debt. Parents of young children can build savings with a 529 plan. Earnings in a 529 plan grow tax-free and are not taxed when you withdraw the money to pay for college. Your state may also offer additional tax benefits for residents such as a deduction for 529 plan contributions.

But what if your child is heading to college soon and you haven't been saving? For these parents, it might be time to rethink your options. According to the College Board, tuition and fees for a four-year, private university will cost around $134,600 at today's prices (assuming prices increase 5% annually). But if your child spent his first two years at a community college, you'd only pay around $77,000 for tuition and fees.

For many, the stigma of community college is changing, and for more reasons than just the price (although that's probably the top reason). Is it really worth you or your child going into excessive debt, just to pay for a college "experience"? That might depend on other factors, such as what your child will study and his expected starting salary. But don't assume that a four-year school is best for everyone. Here are some pros and cons of starting out at a community college:

RELATED: Michelle Singletary shares her thoughts on community college in this webcast

Pros:

1. The price is right. For the 2014-15 school year, students paid $3,347 in tuition and fees to attend a local community college, versus $9,139 for a four-year public in-state university and $31,231 for a private college. And there are a number of high-paying jobs that only require an Associate Degree. For example, the average dental hygienist earns more in their early career than the average starting salary of someone with a four-year degree.

2. Close to home. Another perk of attending community college is that students can live at home with mom and dad. In addition to saving around $10,000 that you would have paid in room and board costs at a four-year school, students can also eat meals and do laundry at home.

3. More night classes. Community colleges generally offer more night and weekend classes to accommodate schedules of students who work. If your child wants to eventually move on to a four-year school but money is tight, a local two-year college might give them an opportunity to put away some extra cash while they earn credit hours.

RELATED: 4 ways families are tackling high college costs

4. Smaller class sizes. Some families may have the means to pay for a traditional four-year university, but their child might not be ready emotionally or academically for the transition. In fact, according to a study from Pearson Foundation, 52% of community college students felt that high school did not prepare them for college-level coursework. With an average class size around 20, students can build closer relationships with their professors and are able to get more personalized instruction.

5. You can use your 529 money. Savings in a 529 plan can be withdrawn tax-free for any eligible post-secondary education including community college. Although if you have enough cash to pay for your child's first two years out-of-pocket, you might want to let your 529 plan savings compound until it's time to transfer to a more expensive to a four-year school.

RELATED: 5 types of students who benefit from 529 plans

Cons

1. Limited degree options. Typically, community colleges only offer two-year, or Associate Degrees. If your child wants to pursue a career that requires a bachelor's degree or higher level of education, they will have to eventually move on.

2. Unmotivated students. Although perceptions are changing, there are still many students who end up at a community college simply because they have nowhere else to go. To separate these students from those who plan on continuing their education, many community colleges now offer Honors programs that serve as a transfer pipeline to four-year bachelor's degree programs.

3. No traditional "college experience". Life on campus at a community college is far different than that of a four-year state university. While many do offer opportunities to get involved, there are many students who work or have other obligations that prevent them from being able to participate in anything beyond their coursework.

RELATED: The biggest college planning mistake parents make

4. Not all classes are transferable. Before your child takes any classes at the local two-year school, meet with an admissions advisor at his desired four-year school to ensure they will transfer for full credit. Your child can also use this time to look for a bachelor's degree program that is best suited for their major and future career choice.

5. Classes don't prepare you for a four-year college. Community college classes tend to have a much lighter workload than courses from a four-year university, which can sometimes be an issue for those who plan on transferring.

RELATED: Want to land a great job? Here's where you should go to school

 

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