4-Year College Alternative - Two Years of Community College

A Hybrid College Experience Can Make Financial Sense

When parents read media reports that the cost of paying for college continues to rise dramatically, they often wonder whether they will be able to afford a college education for their children. Federal, state and institutional financial aid might cover a substantial portion of the costs, but they worry that filling in the gaps with student loans could place a financial burden on them and their family.

That’s why many families are looking at the idea of a hybrid college experience as an alternative. This is where the student attends a local community college for the first 1-2 years of higher education, and then transfers to a four-year college to finish a degree. Doing so can not only create a massive cost savings, but may also help ensure that a student is truly ready for the college experience and not just an extended version of high school.

Here are some significant ways a hybrid college experience can make financial sense:

  1. Tuition Savings: Accredited community colleges may charge as little as $20-30 per unit for identical classes that may cost $500 or more per unit at a four-year school. Completing the general education requirements at a local community college could save families $10,000 or more in tuition per semester over even a public four-year college.
  2. Room and Board Savings: Most students can stay at home and commute to community college classes. Not paying for a college dormitory or apartment can easily save parents $500 or more per month. By continuing to provide food and meals for their student, parents can also ensure that their money isn’t wasted on a meal plan that never gets used.
  1. Travel Savings: Traveling back and forth from home to campus several times per year can easily set a parent back over $1000. Just living a few towns over can cost $100 a month or more in gas for students who drive home on the weekends to raid the fridge and do laundry. Staying home the first couple of years can help save big bucks on travel.
  1. Increased Income: Students who stay home can be encouraged and held accountable when it comes to working a part-time job. At a four-year school, students might feel pressure to take on an intense course load in order to graduate in four years. A community college schedule, however, usually has more scheduling flexibility for the student to pick up a part-time job. Some or all of the money from this job can be saved to help pay for the final two years when the student transfers to a four-year school to complete the degree.
  2. Better Grades: By staying home under the watchful eye of a parent, students will be less likely to end up majoring in beer and minoring in pizza. Community colleges do not typically offer the distracting social and leisure activities of a four-year school, which can help guarantee that parents don't waste tuition dollars on a student who flunks out due to poor priority management decisions.
  3. Clarity About Majors:  Students who stay home and work will potentially get a much clearer picture of what career path would best suit them, as opposed to being influenced by their friends and social schedule at a four-year school. Even better, a student who decides on a career path midway through their time at a community college has the option of picking a school better suited to their major than the school they might have enrolled in as a naive freshman.
  1. Better Chance of Acceptance: Many students who made poor academic choice in high school may improve their chances of getting accepted to their first-choice of four-year colleges by spending a couple of years at a community college. If they use that time to bring their grades up to snuff and show that they're serious about getting an education, a tougher school may be more apt to give them a second look.

Deciding on a college can be a daunting challenge, but for some students the hybrid college experience is a very smart compromise.