Community College Vs the Four-Year U
January 30, 2013
This spring, my youngest sister will graduate high school. When she goes to college, she wants to eventually study pharmacology. That could mean four years of graduate study after she gets her bachelor’s degree. She’s worried about how much this will cost, and she would like to avoid taking on more debt than she needs to. For that reason, she has enrolled in classes at Front Range Community College, which are certainly much cheaper than any four-year university in the area. I did not choose to do this for my first two years of college, although my parents tried to convince me to go to FRCC as well. After I describe the general financial differences between four-year universities and community colleges, I’ll describe why I chose to attend CU for my entire college career.
My sister is financially savvy to take classes at FRCC instead of at nearby CU. The former costs $112.75 per credit hour, while the latter would run her $268.53. Over two years, and 60 credit-hours of classes, my sister would pay $6,765 if she went to a community college and lived with my parents. CU requires that freshmen live on campus except in extenuating circumstances. That’s an extra $11,730 on top of the higher tuition rates, which means the first two years for an average student at CU will cost $27,841.8. So an equivalent two-year education at CU would cost my sister over $20,000 more than at the local community college.
Clearly my sister is smart to go to FRCC and save a big pile of cash. However, I bunked in the dorms and racked up a pretty big bill, but I don’t regret doing so. In my case, the social benefits of living on campus outweighed the financial cost I incurred. I’m still paying those loans, but that’s worth the friends I made during that time. Of course, my sister will likely meet plenty of people in her classes. But the social life of the community college is much different than the four-year university student, for my own experience.
In high school, I took a math class at FRCC, and nobody seemed to make friends during the class. I never heard anyone getting together to do homework together, or just to hang out. Most students would drive to class from work, and head home right after. No one loitered and chatted like you can when you live on campus. I believe this is because the community college population is different from CU’s in one important aspect: most of them have jobs already, and take classes to further that career or get into something else. In a four-year university, the students aren’t immediately concerned with getting a good job. They wait until the end of their college career, and spend time building their social contacts (to put it euphemistically!)
But most importantly, the first two years I spent at CU were a time of drastic social change. I lost contact with almost all of my high school friends, but that wasn’t a big deal because everyone else around me was in the same situation. Now that I am moving closer to a career, I’ve noticed how important this period of social renewal was for me. Adults are rarely put into a situation where no one knows anyone else, and everyone has to make friends all over again. We usually join a workplace with established social cliques, if there are any in the first place. I might sound too wistful when I say this, but I find that most people aren’t “hiring new friends” now. The groups we built at the beginning of college have solidified – and I worry that my sister will arrive at a four-year school too late to be assimilated.
I may be worrying unnecessarily about my younger sister, and projecting my own experience onto her. For all I know, she’ll fit right in at whichever four-year college she ends up going to. In that case, I don’t see a downside to her plan. She’ll save money, and still have a great social network. But if anyone wants to start “fresh” after high school, I heartily recommend starting with the four-year school and living on campus.
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