Is Community College or a University Better in the Long Run?

Choosing a community college or a four-year university depends on an individual student's goals.
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Community colleges have become recognized as a viable alternative to entering a four-year university immediately after high school. These institutions also are a source for adult education classes, technical degrees, vocational programs and pre-professional certificates. A community college may be a better choice for some students after graduation from high school, particularly those who are unable to afford the cost of a four-year college education and those who were unable to achieve the grade point average required for entry at their university of choice. However, there also are disadvantages to choosing a community college over a four-year university.

1 Costs

According to a 2012 report by USA Today, U.S. Department of Education data shows that community colleges are a consistently affordable option for higher education. In 2010, the average annual cost of tuition, room and board at a public, two-year college was about $8,000, while the average annual cost of attendance at a four-year public university was estimated at $13,600. A student living at home while attending community college can eliminate the costs of room and board, although the cost of transportation -- which may include purchasing a car -- is added. In addition, if a student goes on to a four-year university and credits from the community college do not transfer, a student will incur the cost of re-taking those credits.

2 Academics

Classes at community colleges are typically smaller in size than those at four-year universities. Students may have a greater opportunity to interact with instructors and receive individual assistance. Students who are certain of their major or career path may find they can fill all or most of their core course requirements at a community college. However, students who aren't sure of their intended major and would like to explore a variety of classes may find a community college's majors and course offerings to be limited in scope.

3 College or Career?

Community colleges can provide a graduating high school senior with a compromise between entering the workforce and pursuing a bachelor's degree. A two-year degree or certificate program can offer a student specialized skills and experience in a specific field which will in turn make them a more qualified job applicant. Many community colleges also offer remedial and developmental programs that can help a student more adequately prepare for study at a four-year institution. A community college, however, cannot prepare a student for the experience of living away from home if the student is a commuter. Transfer as a junior to a four-year university where many students have been together since freshman year may be present a challenge.

4 Extracurriculars

Attending a community college offers students the opportunity to continue a job they may have held while in high school as well as continue or begin to volunteer in their local communities. Most community colleges do not, however, offer as active a campus life as four-year universities. If the majority of students at a community college are commuters, a student may find it difficult to make social connections or find students with similar interests. Four-year universities usually offer a variety of clubs, activities and events where students can meet people and form lasting friendships.

Laura Leddy Turner began her writing career in 1976. She has worked in the newspaper industry as an illustrator, columnist, staff writer and copy editor, including with Gannett and the Asbury Park Press. Turner holds a B.A. in literature and English from Ramapo College of New Jersey, with postgraduate coursework in business law.