I was sitting at a coffee shop some time ago and overheard two young women talking about going to college and the costs of attending. One of the young women said, “I think it will cost over $10,000 to go to school for just my first year!” The other young woman said, “Wow, that sounds like a lot! Does that include books and a place to rent?” The quick answer was “no.” There are many things to explore when considering your college education.
Tuition and College Debt Dollars
Many young adults choose to attend community colleges, technical colleges, four-year universities, or private colleges, and each of these options has its advantages and disadvantages. Let’s start with the two-year and technical colleges.
In general, technical and community colleges are significantly less expensive than four-year state colleges and universities. The per-year average cost of an in-state two-year college is $3,347. The annual tuition and fees number rises to $9,139 for an in-state four-year college and $22,958 for an out-of-state four-year college. The annual cost rises even higher to $31,231 for private four-year colleges. None of these figures takes into account books or living expenses, which can add a hefty amount to education costs: $1,168 for books, and rent can range from $400 to over $1,000 per month.
These are big numbers for no-wage or low-wage earners. Students who graduated in 2014 have an average debt of $33,000, so making the right college choice is vital. It will take a long time to get out from under this debt, assuming the new graduate doesn’t have any credit card debt or a car payment.
Comparing Types of Colleges
At a glance, the cost of going to a community college for a two-year degree is very encouraging, but it’s not always that simple. Many students take much longer than two years to complete their college education, the lack of a four-year degree is limiting for many in the job market, and in certain comparisons, the quality of education can be lower. The absence of premium educational resources at some institutes can limit learning opportunities, and the social and networking experience at a two-year or technical college is significantly different than that of a four-year state or private college in many instances.
When you look at four-year state and private colleges, there are many academic advantages over most two-year colleges, including access to research facilities, better funding for courses, and the opportunity to receive advanced degrees. Socially, most four-year college students have a significantly different experience than two-year college students — for good or for bad.
The cost of living, books, and tuition is significantly higher at four-year institutions. And the challenges of getting into a four-year state or private college are generally higher than a two-year college, but with so many options in any given state, a student with at least a GED will be able to enroll in a four-year college or, with some effort, a private college.
But the positives of attending a two-year or technical college far outweigh the negatives in my opinion. The obvious pro is cost savings, resulting in much lower debt — or none at all. Many students are able to live at home and/or work to pay off their debt as they attend. And many people are able to have a career, raise a family, and take additional specialized training while attending a two-year or technical college.
Another potential benefit is found when a student who received a two-year degree pursues a four-year degree. With most of the general education units fulfilled and a very clear focus on the desired career, money is saved and education becomes primary — not social life. Finally, a lot of students are unaware of what direction they want their career to go in; a two-year college education can be much more flexible in this circumstance than a four-year college.
Many of the positives and negatives can be flipped on their heads depending on the circumstances; these are just my thoughts, not necessarily an endorsement. As a student of learning, I see tremendous value in any sort of further education, whether it’s at a two-year college, a four-year college, or elsewhere.
The real question is “What type of college education best fits your circumstances both now and for your desired future?”
Choosing Your Educational Path
All this being said, there are several questions that need to be answered in regard to choosing which type of college education you should pursue:
- What career or schooling path are you currently on, and where is it leading you?
- How are you currently budgeting for college?
- What are your current work opportunities as they relate to your education and skill level?
- What type of social atmosphere do you thrive in, and how does this fit your educational choices?
Choosing your college education path is a huge decision. It is the decision that will set your future, possibly more than anything else. With many young men and women starting school this fall or entering college next year, make sure you consider all your options. Most of all, have an awesome time in college, it goes fast!