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How to Reduce the Cost of College Tuition and Fees

Updated on February 19, 2012

Community college tuition is a fraction of the cost of tuition at four-year colleges

Consider Taking Classes at a Community College to Save Money

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Reduce the cost of a bachelor's degree: community college

Numerous articles exist explaining how to save for college and how to get college financial aid, but my purpose is to give you proven ways to reduce the cost of obtaining a bachelor's degree. The focus of this article is community college.

What is a community college? A community college is a publicly funded two year educational institution. Community colleges usually offer adult education, technical, and college-level classes. They grant certificates and associate's degrees.

Why should I go to a community college? If you're interested in reducing the overall cost of getting a bachelor's degree, then attending community college is an excellent choice. Don't think it means you have to stay at home with mom and dad for two years before heading off to a university. Taking even just a few community college classes provides a substantial savings. And the good news is you can take the classes even while you are still in high school or during the summer, and you can even take a lot of them online.

Did you just say I could take college classes while I'm still in high school? That's right. My daughter took two college classes while she was a junior in high school. This summer, the summer before her senior year, she is taking two more classes at our local community college in Illinois. And she plans on taking even more college classes during her senior year. By the time she is done with high school she will have also completed her freshman year of college - sort of like slow and steady wins the race.

How much will I actually save in tuition and fees? Obviously this depends upon the cost of the credit hour fee at both the community college and the university. Let's stick with Illinois as our example. The College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois (CLC) is $93 per credit hour. At Northern Illinois University (NIU), a public four-year college, the cost per credit hour is $320. The typical college level course is 3 credit hours. Now let's do the math. The tuition for a 3 credit hour class at CLC would be $279, at NIU the exact same class would cost $960! So taking even 1 class at a community college could reduce the cost to get a bachelor's degree by $681. In my case, my daughter will complete 30 hours at community college, saving us $6810 in tuition. Wow, now that's impressive.

Is tuition savings the only way going to community college reduces the expense of a bachelor's degree? Absolutely not. One of the big expenses at a 4-year college, if you don't live near one, is room and board. If you take community college-level courses while still living at home then there is no room and board fee (unless mom and dad have one). Back to our NIU example. For 2011 a typical double room plus the platinum meal plan costs $5066 per semester or $10,132 for the year. Pure reduction in cost of you are living at home.

How much of a reduction in college costs will you and your daughter have if she completes her freshman year of college level courses while still in high school? If she completes 30 credit hours at the community college and attends NIU that will reduce our overall tuition costs by $6810. She also is taking a 4-credit hour, dual-enrollment course (more on that later) her senior year of high school which will give her 4 hours of college credit at a cost of $0, which translates to not paying $1280 of tuition to NIU for that same course. Finally, she will only need to attend NIU for three years, instead of the usual four, and that saves approximately $10,132. Add it all up and the reduction in cost of her bachelor's degree is a whopping $18,222. Now I don't know about you, but I can think of a lot of other things I can do with that amount of money.

How much could I save if I got my associate's degree at a community college and then transferred to a 4-year university? Again, using my CLC/NIU comparison ... An associate's degree is 60 credit hours so going to CLC saves $13,620 in tuition. And it saves two years of NIU room and board which is about $20,264. Add it all up - getting an associates degree at a community college could save you $33,884. AMAZING!

Cost of completing 60 credit hours at a community college compared to a four-year university

Cost Per Credit Hour
Cost for 60 Credit Hours
Room & Board (2 years)
Total Cost for Associate's Degree (60 Hours)
Total Savings by Completing 60 hours (2 years) at a community college

You can reduce your college tuition substantially by completing an Associate's degree (60 Credit Hours) in Two Years at a Community College.

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