5 Ways to Effectively Utilize Community College

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Updated on Tuesday, October 6, 2015

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Community college gets a bad rap. Considered a lesser option, intelligence, ambition, and ability are called into question when students identify it as their school of choice. Contrary to popular opinion, community college students may just have something over those headed straight to four-year schools. That something is a brighter financial future.

The Two-Year Transfer

The most traditional way to use community college is as a two-year transfer program. If students take their general education courses at a public, in-state college during the first two years of school, they end up spending an average of 173% more than students who take the same courses at a community college according to The College Board’s statistics. That savings should be enough to convince anyone to delay their university days for a couple of years, but the vast majority of the college-bound are still held back by the stigma.

English 101 at a community college is viewed as less rigorous than the same course at a four-year institution. In reality, many community colleges hire professors that work at four-year institutions as adjunct faculty. This is especially true in towns or cities that have more than one collegiate institution. For a dramatically lower price, students are taking the same course from the same professor as their peers at more expensive schools.

Community college provides opportunities for financial advantage beyond sticker price. After financial aid, and potential scholarships, tuition and fees can become non-existent. Schools can even end up owing students money if the aid package is large enough. When students are ready to transfer, they are often eligible for more scholarships through unique partnerships with local universities, and honors societies specific to 2-year schools.

The benefits of community college extend beyond traditional college students. These organizations add cost-effective value to everyone in the community.

Master a Trade

Just like community college, careers in the trades are often looked down upon. They should not be. The average college student has a starting salary of $48,127. They are also saddled with an average of just over $35,000 in student loan debt.

Compare this to someone who entered a trade career straight out of high school. We’ll look at plumbers as an example. Initially, they enter a four-year apprenticeship program. This apprenticeship includes classroom training that can be found at community colleges, but also includes a rigorous on-the-job work schedule. During this time, not only are they paying lower, community college rates for a lighter course load, but they are also required to complete an average of 2,000 hours of on-the-job training which earns them a rate of $16-$20 per hour. That adds up to $32,000-40,000 per year each year, while their peers are acquiring similar amounts in debt.

After the apprenticeship is over, they are eligible to become journeyman plumbers. With a median hourly pay of $30 per hour, journeyman plumbers can make $60,000 per year, without accounting for any overtime. They are making over 24% more than their college-going peers after the same four years, and they don’t have oppressive student loan debt hanging over their heads.

Some apprenticeships take five years, but the numbers still don’t add up in favor of taking the traditional college route. Especially when you factor in that journeyman isn’t the last rung in the ladder. After journeymen have worked in the field for a state-specified amount of time, they can apply to become a master plumber. Once they have passed the certification test, they stand to make significantly more money. In top paying areas, salaries can reach over $80,000. Careers in many trades are often considered recession proof as well.

[Trade School or College: Which Should You Choose?]

Meet Professional Requirements

Beyond those seeking to start a career, community colleges provide services and opportunities for local professionals. Many professions require that practitioners in the field stay current via continuing education units, or CEUs. While CEUs are often provided by professional organizations, if there is not a chapter close to individuals, they can end up paying massive travel expenses in order to obtain them.

Community college courses often satisfy CEU requirements. With night and online classes readily available, they are conducive to a 9-5 work schedule. While many professional organizations offering CEUs to meet state-set requirements mandate a lofty membership fee, community colleges do not. All that is required is tuition and fees for the specific course. The costs are nominal, and employers may be willing to reimburse them.

If an entire course is too much, professionals can look into one-time seminars and lectures that community colleges also regularly host.

Earn Extra Income as an Adjunct

Along with professors from other area schools, community colleges pull in professionals from the community as adjunct professors. Marketing professionals may be a good fit for specific courses in the school’s business program. English majors can serve as adjuncts to teach courses in language, literature, reading, and writing. The pay often isn’t enough to serve as primary income, but if someone is a professional in a specialized field, teaching as an adjunct professor can be a worthy side hustle.

Explore a New Field

Thinking about switching careers? Non-credit classes are a cost-effective, laid back way to explore potential interests. There are no grades, so there is no pressure. Those same professionals who work as adjuncts in for-credit courses often teach the non-credit courses. This opens up the opportunity for students to ask day-in-the-life questions to people who live it, and can answer knowledgeably. By taking a single non-credit course, potential career jumpers dodge sunk costs that would accompany pursuing an entirely new degree should they decide the new field isn’t for them, after all.

Rethinking the Ways to Use Community College

The next time a peer or family friend announces their decision to go to community college, celebrate with them. While the stigma around their decision is still prevalent in our society, they are making a smart money choice that will positively affect their long-term financial station.

Don’t stop your celebration there. Look into the various ways community college can help you, whether it be through obtaining lower-cost CEUs, earning additional income, or exploring a possible career shift. Saving money isn’t just for two-year transfer students. It’s for the entire community.

Brynne Conroy of Femme Frugality

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