Monday, February 2, 2009

Stretch Dollars at Community College

With falling home values, rising gas prices and tax time right around the corner, saving money has never been a higher priority, especially when it comes to education. Many people may delay pursing a college education because they have to earn a living, support a family, or simply feel they cannot afford it.

Along with everything else, the cost of attending college is rising rapidly. If either you or your children aspire to a university degree, you may already be facing huge expenses. It’s no longer unusual for graduates to accumulate significant debt by the time they complete their degree. Fortunately, there is an economic option that just makes sense: community college.

Transferable Credits
Students can save money by starting their college education at a community college and completing the basic Arizona General Education Curriculum courses to earn their associate’s (two-year) degree. They can then transfer the credits to a 4-year university to obtain their bachelor’s degrees, a potential savings of several thousand dollars when you factor in the cost of on-campus living.

Credits can be transferred to many colleges and universities across the United States, including Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University.

Affordable Tuition
For Maricopa County residents, taking classes at Rio Salado (or any of the Maricopa Community Colleges) is one of the best deals in the Valley. Students pay $71 per credit, compared to an average of $338 per credit for in-state tuition at Arizona’s 4-year public universities. For one year (at 24 credits), expect to pay approximately $1,734 at a community college versus an average of $4,953 at one of the in-state public universities.

Online Classes
Don’t think the education received at a community college is somehow inferior, simply because it’s less expensive.

“All of our faculty are certified and many have real-world experience,” said Dr. Pat Case, president of the faculty at Rio Salado College. “We have high standards and faculty members are evaluated on an ongoing basis.”

Case also notes a low (3 percent) turnover in adjunct faculty. “I know they enjoy teaching in an online environment because they truly feel connected to the students. Therefore, there is no opportunity for a student in the back of the classroom to get lost.”

Start College in High School
Seniors, juniors, and qualified sophomores and freshmen are eligible to earn college credit for specific college-level courses at over 50 area high schools, including Tempe High School, McClintock High School and Marcos de Niza High School. Credits for high school and college are earned simultaneously during regular school hours.

“We’ve had high school students graduate from high school with enough dual enrollment credits to make them a junior in college,” said EJ Anderson, coordinator of Institutional Programs at Rio Salado College. “That’s a tremendous savings for both students and their parents.”

So when considering your educational options, take into account that community colleges are a viable, affordable way to achieve your education goals.

For more information about community college affordability, visit