Attending community college before transferring to a four-year school is a common strategy for college cost savings. However, our latest study illustrates how students in 10 different states can save more than $15,700 while pursuing an undergraduate degree.
After calculating the costs of college credits at schools nationwide, we compared the price tags of earning your first 60 credits of a 120-credit degree at a two-year public college versus a four-year public college.
Wondering how your own state measures up? Scroll over our map below to see how much students can save thanks to community college credit costs.
Students save $11,377 going to community college first
First off, the cost of community college credits is, on average, 60 percent cheaper than at four-year public colleges.
Therefore, a student who earns their first 60 credits at a two-year public school before transferring to an in-state college would pay an average of $11,377 less for a four-year degree.
And if they pay for those credits with student loans, the cost difference is even greater (an additional $3,573) thanks to the interest they accrue.
For example, let’s say a student has a loan balance of $11,377 after completing 60 credits. And they’re in school accruing interest on those unsubsidized loans for two more years at an interest rate of four percent. That would bring their student loan balance to $12,305.
Using our student loan payment calculator, we find that total interest racked up over 10 years would be $2,645. Once you add in the interest accrued on the loans during school, you get a grand interest total of $3,573.
Overall, how much students save thanks to the community college cost they incur will depend on the costs of public colleges in their state.
New Jersey students tend to save the most — $20,990 — by getting their first 60 credits at a community college. Whereas community college offers the smallest cost difference to Kansas residents who save $2,800 on average.
10 states where community college students save the most
For students trying to choose a college, comparing price tags among various institutions can help them decide if attending a community college would be worth it.
In fact, in the top 10 states for community college savings, the cost of 60 credits is at least $15,700 cheaper than at in-state four-year public schools.
Let’s take a look at the 10 states where students will see the biggest savings thanks to the cost of community college credits.
1. New Jersey: $20,993
As mentioned earlier, New Jersey college students stand to save the most by attending a community college first rather than one of the state’s four-year public schools from the get-go.
That’s mostly due to high tuition costs at four-year public colleges in New Jersey. A college credit costs $519 — the third-highest of any state.
However, New Jersey’s average community college costs are $169 per credit. So students save a whopping $350 for every credit earned at a two-year school versus a four-year school.
2. Illinois: $20,707
Illinois residents face higher costs at $487 per credit at four-year state colleges.
But, credits at Illinois community colleges are about 71 percent cheaper at $142 each. So for 60 credits, that adds up to $20,707 in savings.
What’s more, students who plan to pay for college with student loans would save an extra $6,504 in interest going to community college first.
3. Pennsylvania: $18,653
Four-year public schools in Pennsylvania have the second-highest cost per credit in the nation at $521.
And while a savings difference of 60 percent by attending a community colleges is on par with the national average, the dollar savings are much higher at $18,653 for 60 credits. That’s because Pennsylvania community colleges have an average cost of $210 per credit hour.
4. California: $18,403
California students can save a whopping $18,403 for 60 credits by attending one of the state’s many community colleges.
These savings are thanks in part to the rock-bottom community college costs in California. At just $52 per credit hour on average, the Golden State has the cheapest community colleges in the U.S.
While its four-year public colleges have above-average costs at $359 per credit, they’re far from the most expensive. But when credits cost seven times more, on average, than they would at a community college, the savings definitely add up — especially if a student is looking at taking out private student loans to pay for college.
5. Virginia: $17,706
At No. 5 is Virginia, where students save $295 per credit earned at a public two-year college instead of their four-year counterparts. That’s an average $17,706 in savings for students who earn their first 60 credits at a community college and transfer.
If a student can lessen their student loans by avoiding these additional costs, then they would avoid $5,561 in student loan interest as well.
6. Arizona: $16,698
Arizona has the third-lowest community college tuitions in the nation. This means students can save $16,698 on a four-year degree by starting out at a two-year school.
That’s because the average cost of community college in Arizona is just $86 a credit— $278 less than at public four-year schools. Therefore, students get a 76 percent discount at a community college when compared to the $364 average cost per credit at Arizona’s four-year public schools.
7. Michigan: $16,231
Attending a community college first will save a Michigan student $271 per credit, on average. That’s two-thirds less than the average $407 cost-per-credit at a four-year public college in the state.
And for 60 credit hours, Michigan community college students average a total savings of $16, 231.
8. South Carolina: $16,153
The savings discount at a community college in South Carolina is on par with the national average of 60 percent. But with a higher cost-per-credit of $454 for a four-year public school, South Carolina is the eighth-highest cost-wise in the nation.
Therefore, there are more dollars to be saved by earning credits at a community college, since they’re $269 each. What’s more, the average cost of community college is $185 per credit in South Carolina.
Overall, students in this state can expect to save $16,153 on average by attending a community college and transferring accordingly.
9. Vermont: $15,866
In Vermont, the margins of savings students get by choosing a community college are narrower. That’s because college credits are just 52 percent cheaper at Vermont’s community colleges versus its four-year public schools.
However, Vermont also has the second-highest cost-per-credit of any state for both community colleges ($245) and public four-year colleges ($510). These high numbers make for a bigger dollar difference per-credit at $264, leading to a total savings of $15,866 on 60 credits.
10. Delaware: $15,773
Delaware residents save $263 on credits thanks to community college costs compared to a four-year public school.
These savings are due mostly to high tuition costs at four-year schools in Delaware. At $410 per credit, they are among the highest in the nation.
Delaware’s average cost of community college falls right in the middle at $147 a credit. This gives students at two-year public colleges in this state some of the biggest savings by shaving off an average of $15,773 from the cost of a four-year degree.
Based on our findings from this study, prospective college students should seriously consider attending a community college and then transferring if they want to offset their overall educational costs. Not to mention avoid taking on more student loan debt than may be necessary.
For more information on how to make college more affordable, check out our article on 11 ways to reduce your college expenses.
Methodology: College credit costs were calculated using tuition data from the U.S. Department of Education. This was based on annual tuition and fees for the college, assuming two semesters of full-time enrollment (12 credits). State-by-state data was calculated by averaging all reported tuitions in a specific sector in all 50 states. Public school averages are based on the cost-per-credit for all two-year and four-year public colleges for in-state residents. Data is for 2014-15 school year, released May 2016.
The full rankings of all 50 states are listed in the table below, along with the dollar amount of savings from earning 60 credits at a 2-year public college vs. a 4-year public college.
|State||Savings in dollars|
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|0.99% – 11.98%1||Undergraduate|
|1.13% – 11.23%*,2||Undergraduate|
|0.99% – 11.44%3||Undergraduate|
|1.50% – 11.33%4||Undergraduate|
|1.12% – 11.23%5||Undergraduate|
|1.15% – 11.01%6||Undergraduate|
|3.80% – 9.36%8||Undergraduate|
|* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers.
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