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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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    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      MidwestJerseyGirl -You're certainly not alone in the hit you took to your stocks, that's why I think in addition to having a college fund, it's also good to find ways to actually reduce the cost of college - and community college is just one way. I also have written another article on ways high school students can earn college credit. You should check it out. Thanks for your comments.

    • MidwestJerseyGirl profile image

      MidwestJerseyGirl 6 years ago from Western Suburbs of Chicago

      Loved this Hub. My kids are 13 and 10 and though we are saving for college, we took a hit in the stock market and are still catching up. I am hoping as my son starts High School next year we can work towards this type of scholastic achievement that can also help with college finances. Voted up!

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      Hi Danette. And I wished I had known for my older son. It would have been a really good thing for him to have taken some college classes while still a high school student for various reasons. For other parents new to this, I would suggest talking to the college first. That's what I did for my daughter, and the only thing I needed from the high school was her high school counselor's signature on a college form.

      Your son's may want to consider at least taking a class or two over the summers if there is a nearby community college in your area. Thanks for your comments.

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 6 years ago from Illinois

      I wish I had found out sooner that my younger son could take some college while in HS. Even though I had asked around about it, the people I talked to at his school told me it was not available. Not sure why. And I wished both my boys had thought about community college but they both just wanted to get away from our town. Ah well... they are paying for their own schooling so that was their choice.

      very well done hub, lots of good info and I liked the layout and chart. voted up and useful.

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks for your thoughts and suggestions pedrn44. I have become a big fan of community colleges. In the last couple of years I have known so many kids that have come back after a semester at a university to stay home and go to community college. I also know so many kids now that are doing 1-2 years at community college before even considering going off to a 4-year college. Luckily in our neck of the woods we have a really good community college.

    • pedrn44 profile image

      Sandi 6 years ago from Greenfield, Wisconsin

      This is a great hub and well written. College expenses certainly do add up and utilizing a community college is such a good idea. Getting prelims at that level saves so much money and will transfer to a University. Especially for someone uncertain of their career path community college is a great place to start. How about grants and scholarships? Has your daughter applied for those? Thanks so much for all this good information.

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks for your comments. I definitely agree with your comment regarding students with very specific career goals. But for those that don't, I think community college is a great starting point.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 6 years ago from United States

      You are absolutely right. My husband and I teach at a very expensive private University and our kids will go there for free. However, if we didn't have that option, I would definitely have them go to a community college (my brother is dean of an English department at one in CA). I actually attended a community college myself for one year and enjoyed the great diversity of students. I think that advice is especially important if students aren't sure what they want to do and can stay at home instead of needing room and board somewhere. However, for students with very specific career goals and high ability (particularly STEM majors) a university can give a much higher quality of education.

    • SpiffyD profile image

      SpiffyD 6 years ago from The Caribbean

      Very useful hub. Even cheap tuition and fees takes a chunk. Distance learning has its advantages, but the costs are still considerable.