Many of today’s college students are looking for ways to attend college more affordable. Community colleges offer students the ability to earn an associate’s degree, certificate, or complete other professional training programs while avoiding crushing student loan debt after graduation. As you research cheap community colleges in your area, you will generally find that they offer lower tuition and fees compared to four-year institutions. Grants, scholarships, and other financial aid can also help make the cost of higher education more reasonable.
According to the College Board, the average annual cost of tuition and fees for community college students in the United States in 2016-2017 was $3,520. Compare this to the $9,650 in average annual expenses for four-year college or university students and it is clear that community colleges offer students a post-secondary education at a fraction of the cost. Consider completing the first two years of at a community college, so you can save money and rely less on financial assistance to pay for school.
Making Community College More Affordable
As you prepare for your college education, there are many factors you should consider, including:
- Research the average annual tuition and fees at community colleges you are interested in.
- Consider attending a school in the state where you reside as in-state tuition rates are typically lower than those for out-of-state students.
- Find a school with a strong student financial assistance program that can help you keep the costs of attending college reasonable.
- In addition to tuition and fees, other student expenses you will need to plan for include books as well as the costs of your living arrangements. Compare the estimated costs of on-campus versus off-campus room and board at your target school, or even consider staying with family while attending college to lower your living costs.
Many community colleges also offer alternative tuition plans which can be of value to you. These plans include the following:
- Tuition guarantee plans promise incoming students that their tuition rates won’t increase over the course of their enrollment.
- Prepaid tuition plans allow parents and families to prepay college tuition at current tuition rates at eligible public and public colleges or universities.
- Tuition payment plans are short-term installment plans which break up your college bills into equal monthly payments (rather than paying a lump sum at the start of the semester).
The American Opportunity Tax Credit can also help families take advantage of a partially refundable tax credit worth up to $2,500 based on amounts spent on tuition, fees, and textbooks.
Many schools offer fast-track options that can help make community college more affordable. Not only can completing a two-year program college over a shorter period of time save you money, but it can also boost your odds of successful transfer admission to a four-year institution.
A school advisor will recommend the courses you need to take that will transfer to a four-year university for your last two years to complete your bachelor’s degree. This helps you avoid wasting time and money on credits you don’t need.
Financial Aid Options
To make community college more affordable, take advantage of financial assistance programs. The U.S. Department of Education offers federal grants and student loan options to help you manage the costs of your education:
- Federal Pell grants, if you qualify, can provide thousands of dollars to help pay for college. Unlike loans, these needs-based grants are provided to low-income undergraduate students to promote access to postsecondary education and do not need to be repaid. Other federal student grant programs are available through the U.S. Department of Education for community college students.
- Federal student loans are also available if needed, and do not have to be repaid until after you finish your degree. You’ll be required to participate in loan counseling to understand the terms of repayment and interest rates prior to taking out student loans. Private loans are also available from private lending institutions.
The first step to securing federal grants and student loans is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The FAFSA is used to determine eligibility for both federal grants and federal student loans. Be mindful of student aid deadlines and give yourself plenty of time to submit your application before the start of the academic year. For more information on student financial assistance programs or to apply for aid via the web, visit studentaid.gov.
State and local government grants or institutional grants and scholarships may also provide students with need assistance. Check with the financial aid office to learn more about options that may be available to you.
For more CollegeAtlas.org financial aid resources, be sure to check out How to Get Financial Aid: Financial Aid Options
Even after federal grants and student loans, the cost can still be an issue for many current and prospective students. National, state, and local scholarship opportunities can make a big difference in lowering the overall cost of your college education.
Do not overlook scholarships just because you are attending a community college. According to ScholarshipPoints, community college students win approximately one-fourth of all college scholarships and one-tenth of all scholarship dollars. More four-year university students are likely to win scholarships simply because they are more likely to seek and apply for them.
The process of submitting a scholarship application it is often very simple. Applications often include writing a one-page essay and sending in an official academic transcript. Other scholarships may require a letter of recommendation, so be sure to plan for that if required.
Free online scholarship search services can help students find available scholarships. Some community colleges offer their own scholarships. Also, be on the lookout for local community and civic organizations that may offer scholarships (for example, community foundations or civic clubs such as Rotary, Kiwanis, etc.). Check with your college’s financial aid office to learn about available scholarship opportunities.
Some scholarships for community college students may require students to commit to a pursuit of a bachelor’s degree after graduation from community college. Learn from your school about transfer incentives you may be eligible for.
Finding the Most Affordable Community College
The U.S. Department of Education provides several tools to help students and parents find a community college that is the right fit for them. Information about the college’s affordability and value help families make a more informed decision.
Use the College Affordability and Transparency Center to search the lowest tuition and fees, and to calculate net prices (estimates for how much community colleges cost after scholarships and grants).
Top 25 Cheapest Community Colleges in the U.S.
Note: The schools listed below are public community colleges.
|Luna Community College||NM||$886|
|Eastern New Mexico University-Ruidoso Campus||NM||$1,036|
|Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute||NM||$1,095|
|American River College||CA||$1,104|
|Antelope Valley College||CA||$1,104|
|Barstow Community College||CA||$1,104|
|Cosumnes River College||CA||$1,104|
|Folsom Lake College||CA||$1,104|
|Sacramento City College||CA||$1,104|
|San Joaquin Delta College||CA||$1,104|
|Copper Mountain Community College||CA||$1,108|
|New Mexico State University-Carlsbad||NM||$1,108|
|Victor Valley College||CA||$1,114|
|Lassen Community College||CA||$1,127|
|Coastline Community College||CA||$1,136|
|Santa Monica College||CA||$1,136|
|Las Positas College||CA||$1,138|
|College of the Redwoods||CA||$1,142|
|Crafton Hills College||CA||$1,142|
|El Camino College-Compton Center||CA||$1,142|
Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Fall 2015, Institutional Characteristics component and Winter 2015-16, Student Financial Aid component. Data shown above is the tuition and required fees for the 2015-2016 school year and includes in-state/in-district students.
For a full search of community colleges, visit the College Navigator tool.