It’s officially back-to-school season. For some, that means arriving at their dream school within the next couple of weeks. For many, it also means selecting majors with the best chance of securing job security or a high salary. And for an ever-increasing number, it means the prospect of rising tuition leading to rising debt. (See: More Than Half Of College Grads Will Have Trouble Paying Back Their Student Loans.)
WalletHub has released its 2022 Back-to-School Report, finding that about 7 in 10 parents say their education is worth going into debt for. But debt doesn’t have to be a foregone conclusion for every college student. The U.S. has an oft-neglected, well-kept secret for college students wanting a leg-up on their education without borrowing, well, an arm and a leg: community college.
The average in-state cost of a public two-year college is $3,000 per year, compared to $10,740 for their four-year counterparts and $38,070 at private four-year schools. Undergrads who get general education credits at a community college before transferring can save thousands of dollars. This can be particularly attractive for students who haven’t yet figured out their major. (Though prospective business majors considering UC-Berkeley Haas should note that the school will go from a 2-year to a 4-year program in 2024.)
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Of course, not all community colleges are created equal. WalletHub this month released its report on 2022’s Best & Worst Community Colleges, paired with its state-by-state ranking of the Best & Worst Community-College Systems. The financial planning website compared more than 650 community colleges across 19 key indicators ranging from the cost of in-state tuition and fees to student-faculty ratio to graduation rate.
“Communities are emerging from the pandemic, and employers have an immediate need for talent pipelines of well-trained workers. But with the possibility of a recession looming, no one knows for sure what to expect,” says Jeff Lowrance, vice president of communications, marketing and public relations at Central Piedmont Community College in North Carolina.
“Community colleges will continue to be the best value in US higher education. Prospective students from 16 to 70 should check their local community college to see how comprehensive, affordable, flexible and caring college can be.”
WalletHub scored 677 colleges on three categories, each weighted 33.33 points for the total composite score.
- Cost & Financing: Key indicators in this category include cost of in-state tuition and free, presence of free programs, average amount of grant or scholarship aid, per student spending and others.
- Education Outcomes: Indicators include first-year retention rate, graduate rate, credential awarded, student-faculty ratio, full-time faculty, and others.
- Career Outcomes: Indicators include loan default rate, median salary after attending, and students earning above average earnings of high school graduates.
WalletHub’s top pick in the country based on all metrics is State Technical College of Missouri, ranking first in education outcomes, third in career outcomes, and 279th in cost and financing.
It is followed by Northwest Iowa Community College at No. 2, Alexandria Technical & Community College in Minnesota at No. 3, and Manhattan Area Technical College in Kansas at No. 4.
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On the other end of the spectrum, you have Little Big Horn College in Montana as the lowest ranked school in the ranking, scoring a paltry 31.33 total points and ranking 319th for cost, 677 in education outcomes and 673 in career outcomes.
It was followed by Tohono O’Odham Community College in Arizona, Sisseton Wahpeton College in South Dakota, and Denmark Technical College in South Carolina.