Those who consider applying to college often debate the differences between attending a community college and a private university. There are benefits and drawbacks to both types of school that potential applicants will want to contemplate. Generally, the community-college-versus-private-college argument will come down to questions regarding the cost and quality of education. These are important issues to look into and will probably be the deciding factor for someone choosing between the two options. However, to thoroughly understand the debate, it is worth discussing all of the differences between these two types of college.

Differences in Cost

Community and private colleges offer different programs for different prices. Private schools provide bachelor's and graduate-degree programs, sometimes in combination. These take four or more years to achieve and can be very expensive. The average annual tuition for a private college is $27,293. Community colleges are much less expensive; however, they are limited to a two-year program that culminates in an associate degree. The average annual tuition rate for community college is $2,713. Individuals wishing to complete core educational requirements at a community college before transferring to a private school will find programs designed for that purpose. Because of the difference in cost between private and community colleges, many students who wish to attain a bachelor's degree enroll in this type of program.

The Student Experience

The quality of an education is also at stake when comparing community and private colleges. Community colleges are often considered to offer a less valuable educational experience than private schools. This is partly due to student expectations and partly due to the students themselves. Because community colleges accept all applicants, many students did not perform well in high school and are not enthusiastic learners. As a result, expectations of student performance are dramatically reduced when contrasted with a private college. Also, the classroom experience may be dull as professors primarily lecture to compensate for minimal student participation. Private colleges will have high student expectations with heavy workloads. Discussions in the classroom are stimulating as participation is required. This creates an encouraging environment valuable to student learning.

The Classroom Experience

Some aspects of community college are on par with or may be superior to private college. Professors at community colleges are often as qualified as those at private universities. Also, class sizes at community colleges are smaller than those at most private colleges; this provides an intimate learning atmosphere and promotes personalized relationships between professors and students. For the student who aims to get the most out of the community-college experience, a close relationship with a qualified professor can be an advantage over private college. Class sizes at a private college may be large enough to fill an auditorium. This makes it difficult for a student to make an impression or receive personalized assistance. In addition, classes at private universities may not even be taught by a professor. Instead, a graduate student may teach a class as a requirement of his or her degree program.

Other Differences

Private colleges offer an immersive campus life.
Private colleges offer an immersive campus life.

Other aspects that differ between these two types of college include campus life, student organizations as well as the potential to explore majors and transitional opportunities. The private college will appeal to a student who wants to be immersed in campus life. There are many more student organizations than at community colleges. This contributes to a social scene among students and adds to the allure of campus life that will not be found at a community college. On the other hand, community-college programs that help students transfer to a four-year college will appeal to individuals uncertain about which major to select or which private school to attend. Community colleges also tend to be more flexible for students with working schedules.

The Bottom Line

Each potential student will have a different idea of what she is looking for in attending college. Someone interested in attaining an associate degree will opt for community college. Someone concerned about the costs of education will also find community college to be helpful. For those uncertain about which school to attend or what field to study, attending community college will help answer these questions. Private schools will appeal to potential students who want the best education possible and for whom cost is not an issue. Also, those interested in strong student organizations and an active campus life will look to private colleges and the experience they provide. However, despite their differences, the proactive student will find that community and private colleges can work together. By attending a community college and transferring to a private school, the combination can provide the best educational experience for the best price.