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Community college: A stepping stone to higher-education savings

It's a good time to give a local community college another look.

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Thanks to skyrocketing costs of private and public universities, many families are finding their college funds won't be enough. With low costs, small classes and easy-to-transfer credits, a community college may be the solution cash-crunched families are looking for.

"Price has always been a selling point for us," says Norma Kent, director of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges. "It's a very affordable way to go."

Let's look at some numbers. The average cost for a full-year of tuition and fees at a community college is just $2,076, compared to $5,100 at a public, four-year university and $20,081 at a private, four-year university, according to the College Board.

Save money with college credit transfers
Attending a community college for two years and transferring to a four-year college or university could save you a bundle in tuition costs.

Let's say you live in Philadelphia. By attending the Community College of Philadelphia for two years and then transferring to Temple University, you'd save more than $9,200 in tuition costs.

Thanks to an articulation agreement between the two schools, a transfer student with a 3.65 grade point average or higher will receive a $2,000 merit scholarship to Temple. A transfer student with a 3.0-to-3.64 GPA will receive a $1,000 scholarship.

An articulation agreement specifies which community college course credits will be accepted toward a bachelor's degree at the four-year college or university. It also outlines scholarship requirements and specifies what kind of grades a student must achieve to transfer to the four-year school as a junior.

Articulation agreements between two-year and four-year colleges are quite common. The Community College of Philadelphia has articulation agreements with most four-year colleges and universities in its region.

"We can really guarantee that you'll enter as a junior and your credits will transfer," says Kimberly Iapalucci, director of public relations at the Community College of Philadelphia. "We call it a seamless transition."

Students at four-year schools can nudge down education costs by heading home and taking summer classes at a local community college.

Every credit earned at a low-cost community college can save you hundreds of dollars in tuition. And by bunking at your parent's house, you could knock down your room-and-board charges to zero.

A full summer class schedule at a community college could shave thousands of dollars off your university bill. Credits from most community college classes will transfer to a four-year school without a hitch, but be sure to check before signing on.

Attending a community college also makes a lot of sense for students with uncertain career goals. Why shell out thousands of dollars in university tuition if you have no idea what you want to do?

"The benefit of a community college is we're low cost, and you can afford to play around a bit. You can explore," says Betty Davis, assistant dean of financial aid at Community College of Allegheny in Pennsylvania. "It's a good place to start."

Why not start in high school?
And you don't have to be a college student to cash in on community college classes. Many community colleges offer courses to high school juniors and seniors. With dual-enrollment classes, teens earn high school and college credits at the same time.

Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville, Fla., has been offering a dual-enrollment program to area high school students since 1974. Eligible high students attend classes at the college for free. Course textbooks are loaned to the students free of charge.

"This is like a two-year scholarship," says Linda Lanza-Kaduce, director of the high school dual-enrollment program at SFCC. "It's a big deal -- especially in these hard times with people not feeling as rich as they did a few years ago."

Lots of people who feel fed up with the working world head to community colleges to re-group and re-train. Laid-off workers and those fearing layoffs are flocking to community colleges in search of new skills and training. Many will like what they find.
Bankrate.com's corrections policy
-- Posted: Jan. 19, 2005

 
 
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