5 Reasons My Kids Aren't "Too Good" for Community College
October 17, 2017
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Earlier this year, my two daughters turned ages 6 and 8 and started a new year of school. As girls in 1st and 3rd grade, they’re busy learning basics like English and math, plus interpersonal skills like how to get along with others and how to make and keep friends.
But one day, I know their educational goals will reach greater heights. After elementary school comes middle school, with high school inevitably right behind. At that point, we’ll have to start thinking about college – an idea that currently terrifies me.
5 Reasons I Hope My Kids Go to Community College
With college costs and student loan debt soaring, I want to help my kids make smart decisions regarding their future. But, we’re not just hoping for the best; we’re planning to help them pay.
Since our kids were babies, we’ve been socking money away in their 529 savings plans. And now, at ages 6 and 8, they each have around $10,000. By the time they reach college, I estimate they’ll both have $50,000 to pay for any school of their choosing.
With ample savings to get them started, one might assume we’re hoping our kids go to an expensive college or a private school. In reality though, we’re hoping for the opposite. While nobody knows what the future might hold, my husband and I secretly hope our kids attend community college – at least for the first two years.
While a lot of people believe two-year schools are for people who can’t get into a traditional university, we actually believe they offer great value for students. Here’s why:
#1: Community college is a lot cheaper than four-year schools.
While what you’ll pay for college depends a lot on where you live and the school you choose, nobody can deny that community college offers a cheaper path to degree attainment. According to College Board, the average cost of community college for the 2016-17 school year worked out to $3,520 nationally, all while the average cost of a four-year school worked out to $9,650 per year.
Keep in mind, that figure only includes the cost of college tuition. It doesn’t include the hefty price of books or the ever-increasing costs of living and eating on a college campus.
If my kids went to community college – at least for two years – they would have the opportunity to live at home where they could live and eat for free. So, not only would they save an average of $6,000 per year in tuition those two years, but they would save thousands more in rent and food.
#2: Want to earn a four-year degree? You can transfer credits to a four-year school.
While community college offers a wide range of two-year degree programs, these schools aren’t equipped to offer four-year degrees. Fortunately, kids can absolutely attend community college for two years to complete their prerequisite and core education courses. From there, they can transfer their credits to a four-year school that offers the exact degree program they want to pursue.
If my daughters want to pursue a degree in teaching, nursing, law, or some other field that requires a bachelor’s degree, I will urge them to complete their basic education at community college first. That way, they can save money on tuition, room and board for the first two years before transitioning to a more expensive school.
#3: Community college teaches technical skills that translate into real, in-demand careers.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop resource page, some of the fastest-growing jobs in the country require a two-year degree. Those with the most potential for growth through 2024 include: Occupational Therapy Assistants (43 percent), Physical Therapy Assistants (41 percent), Web Developers (27 percent), and Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (26 percent).
I would be thrilled if my kids earned a two-year degree in any growing field. Not only would they save money on college, but they would be able to enter the workforce and start earning a living on a much faster timeline.
#4: Two-year degrees can lead to high-paying jobs.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that some of the fastest-growing careers that require two-year degrees are also some of the highest paying. If you earn a two-year degree to become an occupational therapy assistant, for example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an annual mean wage of around $59,530. Diagnostic medical sonographers, on the other hand, earned an annual mean wage of $71,750 in 2016.
Web development, another field that requires only a two-year degree, paid annual mean wages of $72,150 last year.
The list of high-paying two-year degrees goes on and on, which is why I plan to introduce my kids to these smart options once they get closer to college age.
#5: I want to help them avoid student loans.
Recent reports say the average college graduate in 2016 left school with more than $37,000 in student loans. While it’s hard to say how much debt students will take on in the future, the growing costs of college lead me to believe debt levels will surge even higher.
While helping our kids avoid debt is one of the biggest reasons we help them save for school, community college (for at least two years) is another strategy we hope to use.
The fact remains that community college costs significantly less than its four-year counterparts. Even if our kids go to a local community college and live at home for their first two years of school, the amount of money we spend could be cut dramatically – with savings of up to half.
The bottom line: Low-cost community college can help their college savings stretch that much further while also limiting our out-of-pocket costs and reducing any amounts of money they need to borrow.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, I don’t want my kids to borrow tens of thousands of dollars just to “find themselves” while forking over unnecessary sums for the quintessential, on-campus college experience. With community college, they can fiercely focus their efforts on learning while making every dollar we save count.
While a lot of people look down at community college, we’re choosing to see it for what it is – a smart way to complete core college courses at a discount, or to learn technical skills that can lead to a real job. And, isn’t that the point of college anyway?
My kids aren’t “too good” for community college at all. They are, however, too good to start their adult lives with tens thousands of dollars in debt.