The cost of college is getting more expensive year after year. But it is important and quite valuable to get a college education and obtain marketable skills in today's competitive workforce. The thought of paying for four years of college may seem unattainable but there are smart, economical ways to make the cost of college possible. That is why a "hybrid" college experience can make financial sense.
So, what is a hybrid college experience? This is where the student attends a local community college for the first 1-2 years of higher education, and then transfers to a four-year college to finish a degree. The average cost of attending a two-year college is much less than that of a four-year institution and it is one of the smartest choices to reduce the cost of your college education.
For example, in its 2019 report, Trends in College Pricing, the College Board reports the average cost of tuition and fees of public colleges for the academic year was $10,440 (in-state), $26,820 (out-of-state) and for private colleges, the cost was $36,880.
Now compare those costs with the costs of tuition at public two-year colleges for the same academic year at an average of $3,660, according to the Department of Education. In addition, according to this report, California community colleges were the lowest in the nation, with the cost of tuition about $1,150 for the academic year. Completing your general education requirements at a local community college could save you $10,000 or more in tuition costs per academic calendar year over even a public four-year college.
Another factor of the hybrid college experience can be done while still in high school through dual enrollment. Some states, including California, promote dual enrollment programs by offering high school students the opportunity to get dual high school/college credit for courses taken at community colleges while in high school. Students can start college early, take classes in a college general education pathway or career pathway, and then transfer these college credits to universities such as CSU and UC, while sometimes paying zero tuition costs.
As a California resident, what makes starting at a community college almost a no-brainer, is the College Promise, which provides community college students, the first two years of community college for free. Getting an associate degree makes it much easier to transfer to a four-year school, and in some cases it is automatic. You can plan a hybrid pathway from enrollment in community college to graduation at a four-year institution.
But there are other cost factors as well.
Another major cost factor is room and board. Most students can stay at home and commute to community college classes. Living at home with parents will reduce your costs rather than paying for the cost of room and board for campus housing and food plans at a four-year college. According to the same report mentioned above, the average price of room and board in 2019-2020 was estimated at $11,500 for public colleges and $13,000 for private colleges.
Not everyone who graduates high school knows exactly what they would like to do for their career. Attending a 2-year college gives you a chance to test the waters at a much lower cost than a four-year college. You can try different classes or fields before deciding what you really want to pursue as a career direction and major. At a 4-year college or university, if you decide one or two years later that you would like to change your major, you may learn that many of the classes you have already taken will not count to your new major, and that is a lot of money wasted on classes that will not go towards your college degree.
If your grades were not the best while in high school and you could not have even been accepted to a four-year college or university straight out of high school, it does not mean you can't graduate from one of these schools. Attending a community college and getting good grades during these two years can help your chance of admission to a four-year institution. Community college allows you the opportunity to make changes, improve yourself, and get on the right path to better life and career.
At a four-year college, students may feel more pressure to take on a full course load in order to graduate in four years. A community college schedule usually has more scheduling flexibility for the student to be able to work a part-time job. In doing so, some or all of those earned monies can be saved to help pay for when the student transfers to a four-year college to complete a degree.
Emotional cost is another factor to consider. Some students are just not ready to leave home and go away to a four-year school. Large colleges and universities can also be overwhelming. Transitioning from high school to college is a very transformational journey in life and some students are just not ready to make that change. Attending a community college first, even part time, can help in that profound life changing pathway in an incremental process without fundamentally altering your life. Community college classes are also smaller in class size and may be more familiar to that of class size in high school.
Taking all the above factors into consideration when planning for your higher education, a hybrid college experience makes not only financial sense, but is may offer you a better chance to help make your life better in the long run. That is the most important in the scheme of things.