The average college student in the United States graduates with almost $30,000 of debt. There are many proposals on how to deal with student debt. Some just do the minimum payments, while others try and refinance student loans to make the payments more manageable. If I were to write about all of these proposals, my fingers would grow sore from typing, and your eyes would probably get tired from reading. Not to mention, we would all probably lose patience! To save time, I’m going to discuss a proposal that’s close to my own heart, and one that I’ve had personal experience with: Community Colleges.

Why Community College?

Here are a few reasons why I believe that community colleges are a good choice for students:
·        Community colleges are typically smaller, so students can get the attention from their instructors that they need.
Colleges are generally larger than lower-level education centers (i.e. middle schools and high schools). Because students grow accustomed to such small class sizes, they can easily be overwhelmed by a large college. Community colleges typically offer smaller class sizes than four-year universities, which makes them a good transition for students who have just graduated from high school. Comfort = more likely to succeed = money well spent. In addition to the comfort provided by a smaller class size, instructors are more likely to give their students the attention they need, which can promote student success, meaning students get more “bang for their buck.”
·        Going to college is stressful. By going to community college and getting an associate degree, a student can have a tangible proof of his or her success in just a couple years, which might be enough to encourage them to obtain a bachelor’s degree.
College is stressful. It requires hard work, patience, and a ton of money. It’s easy to get discouraged when it doesn’t seem like all of the effort is paying off, and students can be tempted to drop out of school, which, needless to say, is a waste of money. By attending a community college, students have the opportunity to obtain an associate degree, which takes, on average, only two years. Although bachelor’s degrees are usually preferable to an associate degree, the classes required for an associate degree typically count towards a bachelor’s degree; a student can earn an associate degree after two years of college, and transfer their credits towards earning a bachelor’s degree. An associate degree offers tangible proof that a student’s effort is paying off, which might be enough to keep the student in school and make the most of their time and money.
·        Community colleges offer good education at the fraction of the price of a four-year institution.
Community colleges are getting “pickier” when it comes to hiring instructors; they will hire professors who just have master’s degrees, but they prefer professors with doctorates. Also, a lot of professors don’t just work at the community college level; I’ve had professors at my community college who work at four-year institutions. As my Abnormal Psychology professor said, “I don’t dumb this down for you guys.” Everybody has to take the same classes their first few semesters, no matter what program they are in; these are the “Gen-Ed” classes. By taking Gen-Ed classes at a community college and then transferring to a four-year institution, a student can potentially save thousands of dollars. Of course they will need to check with the institution to see which classes transfer, but still; who doesn’t want to save thousands of dollars?

My Story

I agreed to go to college on one condition: I wouldn’t have to take out a bunch of loans and go into a ton of debt. Even though community college isn’t free, I was able to get grants and scholarships (provided through the school) that helped defer the costs. I graduated on May 17, 2015 from Stark State College (my local community college) with an associate of arts degree in English Composition, and I am completely debt free.
It isn’t just the money that makes me support community colleges (although it is a huge part). The professors genuinely cared about me. They were able to invest in me. They knew me. They supported and encouraged me. I’m not sure I would have gotten the support I needed if I had gone to a large university right out of high school. Also, now that I have all of my Gen-Eds out of the way, I am able to transfer directly into my program of choice at the university where I’ve decided to continue my college education. I’ve already saved myself about $10,000 by attending community college first.

So What?

If you or someone you know is looking into college, don’t overlook the community colleges. Community colleges might not be as “glamorous” as four-year universities, and they might not be free, but they sure are a great investment. (And hey, did you know some community colleges let high school students take college credit classes for free? That’s an even better deal!)
Molly Maurer

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