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Avoid Becoming a Student Loan Statistic - Consider the Value of a Community College Education

August 3, 2015

The cost of college increases each year and is fast outpacing inflation. With each passing year, the price tag becomes more daunting. Stories of college graduates sinking in debt abound. According to The Wall Street Journal, over 70 percent of students graduate with debt. The United States Congress claims that the average amount of student loan debt is $27,200 - about 60 percent of the same student’s average annual income.

However, the importance of earning a college degree has not diminished. According to the College Board, the more advanced your degree, the higher your income. Those with an associate’s degree will earn 27 percent more in their lifetime as compared to those with a high school diploma. Those with master’s degrees enjoy an income of 90 percent more and individuals with professional degrees earn over three and a half times more than high school graduates. So, how do you avoid the high cost of college and becoming a student loan statistic? Consider enrolling in a community college.

Community colleges provide the opportunity to achieve the same level of academic success at a fraction of the cost. According to The College Board, the 2014-15 average published tuition and fees for in‐state students in the public four‐year sector was $9,139, and room and board charges push the total cost to about $20,000 per year. The average published total cost of private, non-profit institutions was more than $42,000.

Living at home while attending a community college for the first two years of school can save thousands of dollars. A Herkimer College graduate who transfers to a private college such as Syracuse University, Cornell University or Penn State can save more than $75,000. 

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, on average, college students change their major at least three times over the course of their college career. The additional time to complete a degree can be significant, driving up the cost. If those changes occur while at a community college, the cost of doing so is significantly reduced.

While saving thousands of dollars is clearly a great benefit to enrolling in a community college, cost doesn’t tell the whole story. The value of a community college education is defined by much more.

Community college faculty focus on teaching and learning. This, along with smaller class sizes, provides students with personal attention from faculty. Furthermore, faculty generally have practical work experience in the subjects they teach giving students a real-world perspective. Community colleges offer opportunities to explore different majors and interests, and complete a foundation of general education courses before transferring to a four-year college. 

Many community colleges now offer on-campus housing and a variety of student life programs and activities, allowing them to attract students from around the world. This benefits all students, particularly those who are place-bound, by providing the opportunity to interact with students with diverse cultural backgrounds — a critical experience as students prepare to work in a global economy and a diverse workforce. 

As a community college president, I certainly understand the critical mission of our institutions and the opportunities we provide for the citizens of our communities. However, it is my personal experience as a first generation college student and a graduate of two community colleges, as well as having spent 27 years as a faculty member and administrator at two other community colleges, that has led to my passion for community colleges and has made me personally aware of the vital role we play in transforming individuals’ lives. I hope you will consider the quality education and superb value our community colleges provide.

- Dr. Cathleen C. McColgin