How To Compare Community College and University Costs

College costs are soaring. For many, the choice between attending a four-year college or university or, on the other hand, a community college, is a financial one. Comparing costs between the two options means looking at the various expenses higher education entails. Beginning with how much classes cost and moving through various other elements, a person comparing community college and university colleges will have a long list of data to process to get the real cost comparison. Here are some things you will want to consider.

  1. Tuition. This is where the bulk of college expenses come for both community colleges and universities. Each school will have its own way of breaking down the price: per unit, per class, per hour, per credit. There are also sometimes lab fees to factor in. To compare these costs, you will have to decide how many classes you'll be taking and what the total tuition price will then be. This total will also depend on your course of study and your status as a full-time or part-time student. This information can be gleaned from each school's enrollment materials or by contacting the office of admissions.
  2. Room & board. Here's another place where colleges of all types charge a great deal. Whether you're going to a community college or a university, you might commute to school, which means room and board aren't an issue. On the other hand, at either locale, you may, in fact, stay in the residence halls and/or join the meal plan. The school of your choice may offer different rates for different plans, such as a single room vs. a double room or a "3 meals a day" plan vs. one that covers only two meals a day.
  3. Books and materials. Don't underestimate how expensive textbooks are. In fact, if your goal is to someday get wealthy, you may consider going into the textbook business. Not only are books very expensive (some are over a hundred dollars), but often, you can sell them back for only a fraction of what you paid for them. Other times, you can't sell them back at all because college book companies have learned they can make more money by constantly putting out new editions of books, stopping anyone's ability to resell. (Obviously, for science and technology, this is inevitable, but do we really need a new edition of literature anthologies every year?). So, factor in what your books will cost, along with other materials particular to your major. You may find community colleges and universities don't differ too much in these fees as they will be dealing with the same publishers or retailers.
  4. Additional fees. College is filled with fees. These can fall under headings like "activity fees" (for class activities, college events, use of the gym, etc.), "technology fees" for using the computer labs, "residence fees" (fees for dorm activities) and of course, "parking fees." These are just some of the smaller expenses you might run into. Check carefully with community colleges and universities alike for these kinds of hidden expenses when you do a price comparison.
  5. Travel and commuting costs. Whether you choose to live on campus or commute from home, consider the expense you may incur here. Traveling to and from a community college in your town may cost you gas money, whereas going to a university far away may cost you a roundtrip plane ticket twice a year. These are things to consider as you compare and contrast prices.
  6. Figure in availability of financial aid and job opportunities. Few students can afford a private four-year college without some kind of financial aid. Being able to afford a community college courseload may also be too much for many to afford on their own these days. So, when you compare and contrast costs, make sure to factor in what sort of financial aid is available to you. This could come in loans, grants, or work-study (on-campus job). Also, consider what jobs may be available in the area in case you need to work elsewhere.
  7. Consider the intangibles. Of course, outside of dollars and cents costs, there are other "costs" to compare between universities and community colleges. For instance, is it worth having five figures of debt in order to go to a four-year private university? Is it worth paying for the on-campus "college experience?" Is the money you may save going to a community college and getting an Associate's Degree worth the hassle of transferring elsewhere to get your B.A.? Will getting your degree that way look bad on a resume? Will a private university degree really help more than a state school degree? These are all things only you can answer for yourself after consulting advisors, teachers, or other people you trust.   College at any level is an expensive proposition. Much research needs to be done if you're trying to do an accurate cost-benefit analysis. Good luck with your search.  


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