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What are Community Colleges? Are they Free?

What are Community Colleges and are they free? Associate degrees, certifications, and continuing education are all available in community colleges.
Community colleges offer both academic and vocational programs to its students.
Typically, community colleges charge substantially less than four-year institutions.

The first community college in the United States was established in 1901 when Joliet Junior College opened its doors to six students. Today, community institutions enroll approximately 12 million students annually. These students take classes in anything from web design to agricultural science. Additionally, they can select academic majors that are transferable to four-year institutions.

What distinguishes a community college from a junior college and a traditional institution? Do community colleges merit the cost?

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What are Community Colleges?

A community college provides affordable postsecondary education. These institutions, which were formerly known as junior colleges, primarily function as two-year colleges. Graduates from community colleges are prepared for the workforce.

Graduates can transfer from a community college to a four-year university, depending on their major, to obtain a bachelor’s degree.

Nearly 12 million students are served by 1,044 community colleges around the US. Nearly half of community college students are older than 22, and around two-thirds of students earning credits there enroll part-time. In addition, the majority of community college students hold down jobs while attending classes.

Most associate degrees granted by community colleges are two-year programs. Many also provide GED lessons, technical degrees, academic and vocational credentials, as well as continuing education courses. Even four-year degrees are offered by some, albeit they are less popular.

What are Community Colleges
What are Community Colleges?

What Degrees Are Offered by Community Colleges?

Academic and professional degrees are offered by community colleges. Academic fields like English, history, economics, sociology, biology, and more are studied by many students. Obtaining a degree in one of these academic fields helps prepare graduates to enroll in bachelor’s programs; community colleges frequently classify these degrees as transfer degrees.

Graduates of vocational programs may be prepared for employment. Allied health professions like nursing, respiratory therapy, dental hygiene, and radiation therapy are common career choices. Additionally, community colleges provide vocational courses in engineering technology, industrial manufacturing, culinary arts, and automotive technology.

In the United States, 1 million students received associate degrees in 2019. 40% of degrees were acquired in the most popular majors, which were general studies, humanities, and liberal arts and sciences.

Over 10% of graduates studied business, while little under 20% studied health professions, including allied health jobs. Criminal justice, multidisciplinary studies, and computer and information sciences are among the other popular associate degrees.

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Are Community Colleges Free?

Community colleges are generally not free.

However, junior colleges’ tuition and fees are less likely to cause sticker shock than, say, your normal four-year university. Community colleges, however, are often not free; they are simply more affordable.

Nevertheless, the idea of making community college free nationwide is still being discussed. This hasn’t fully materialized yet. Nevertheless, a few states have implemented various forms of free community college.

These “tuition-free” programs that are offered come with a wide range of restrictions and eligibility criteria. For instance, New York provides students from households earning under $125,000 annually with access to the tuition-free Excelsior Scholarship program. Both two-year and four-year programs are covered, as long as the desired institution is a member of the CUNY or SUNY system.

We advise you to look into the financial help and scholarships that are offered in your state and at your neighborhood community institutions. Ask your high school guidance counselor, your community college advisor, visit your nearby library, or speak with the bursar office at your community college for advice. Since many “free-tuition” programs include eligibility criteria and restrictions, as seen in the aforementioned examples, it is crucial to study the tiny print.

What are Community Colleges?
What are Community Colleges?

Benefits of Community College Financially

Students can save a lot of money by enrolling in community college.

In-state community college students typically paid $3,300 in tuition and fees in the academic year 2018–19. Students who attended a public, in-state, four-year school, on the other hand, paid an average of $9,200. Even higher costs are incurred by out-of-state students and those who select private universities.

Graduates with a recognized associate degree can frequently transfer to a four-year institution. For transfer students with an associate degree, the majority of colleges eliminate the general education requirements for a bachelor’s degree. Students can save tens of thousands of dollars in tuition and fees by attending a community college for the first two years of their college career.

Depending on your state, community college costs can change. California has the lowest cost, with a ceiling of $46 per credit, but due to fee waivers and incentive programs, around half of the state’s 2.1 million community college students do not pay any tuition.

17 states allow community college students to attend two-year institutions without paying tuition. However, many programs place restrictions on participation depending on home poverty and academic promise. The majority of Americans support free community college, according to recent data, so other states may soon pass similar legislation.

Admission Requirements for Community Colleges

Additionally, we just established at the outset that most community colleges—if not all—have open admissions guidelines. We’ll clarify what this implies and how it relates to community college general admissions requirements.

Open admissions means that a high school diploma or a GED is the only prerequisite for admission. Aside from this prerequisite, there are no further requirements for admission to the institution. Prospective students must finish, submit, apply, and provide documentation of a GED or high school graduation.

Although community colleges often have liberal admissions standards, some programs within an institution may have more stringent requirements.

SAT or ACT scores may be required by some community colleges, contrary to popular opinion. For international students, a VISA or green card must be presented as additional entrance requirements.

Students transferring from a four-year college with a GPA of less than 2.0 would not always have an easy time getting into community colleges because the 2.0 is below the required minimum transfer GPA for admittance. A particular college may have a spike in applications for a particular year for a variety of reasons. Due to the limited number of openings, the junior college may opt to make the admissions requirements more stringent in this situation.

Are Community Colleges Worthwhile?

Compared to four-year universities, community colleges sometimes provide a more economical path to a college degree. A two-year degree can pay off handsomely for many individuals. Professionals with an associate degree, for instance, make more money and have lower unemployment than individuals with merely a high school education. Additionally, community colleges can be used as an inexpensive first step toward a bachelor’s degree.

Additionally, compared to students at four-year colleges, community college students report higher levels of satisfaction.

To assist prospective students in finding institutions in their area, the American Association of Community institutions provides a community college finder. Students can learn how to apply for community college after compiling a list of colleges.

Two-year universities often have an open admissions policy and don’t need applicants to have taken standardized exams. Applicants may enroll if they fulfill the prerequisites.

What are Community Colleges?
What are Community Colleges?

Frequently Asked Questions

Do community colleges offer bachelor’s degrees?

Bachelor's degrees are granted by several community colleges. 90 community colleges in 19 states, offering four-year degrees in addition to standard two-year degrees, according to a 2018 Pew analysis. Community colleges do not, however, grant bachelor's degrees in the majority of states. In order to complete a bachelor's degree, about 40% of community college students transfer to four-year institutions.

Are Community Colleges free?

Not typically. The average semester tuition for community college ranges from $550 to $3,360 depending on the state. Nevertheless, 17 states do provide free community college courses to students who meet the requirements in terms of their academic performance or finances. These include Indiana, California, and New York.

What does Community College cost?

Depending on the state, community college costs can vary greatly. The typical community college tuition in 2020–21 was about $3,300 per year.


Higher education does not have a single best method. Not every high school graduate wants to immediately begin a four-year degree program. A major deterrent might also be the potential for having a six-figure student loan debt.

Some people just cannot follow the standard path to a bachelor’s degree in one go due to life’s complexity and unpredictability.

We think community college is a compelling choice for anyone who wishes to continue or expand their education after high school without becoming broke, giving up productive job, or plunging blindly into higher education for these and many other reasons.



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