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Six Keys to Saving by Starting at Community College
When Rich Johnston started college in the 1970s, four years at a standard university was out of the question financially. So he worked, knocked off two years of community college credits in 19 months and then worked some more. He ended up graduating in 1981 from the University of Puget Sound, a private college in Tacoma, Wash. “Nobody ever asked where I went the first two years, and I don’t think anybody cares,” he said. “And I bet I saved myself $30,000.” When it came time for his son Bret to start college, Bret decided to take the same path, choosing smaller classes, a more flexible schedule and a price that was a fraction of what he might have paid in Washington’s state university system.
He is hardly the only one. A few weeks ago, in a “Your Money” special section of the newspaper, I wrote about Mino Caulton, a high school senior in Shutesbury, Mass., who was weighing the virtues of a community college versus a more prestigious private university that would have required him to take out lots of student loans. Advice for Mr. Caulton poured in on our Bucks blog, and it became clear that there were few centralized resources for families who had made a strategic financial decision to attend community college first as a cost-saving measure.
Merely deciding to attend community college does not guarantee that you will save money. If the goal is to earn a bachelor’s degree in four years, anything that goes wrong along the way, like taking the wrong classes or getting a bad grade in a required class, means extra semesters and extra expenses. So what follows are a list of six of the most important things you need to think about if you’re trying to save money in this way.
A CULTURE OF TRANSFERRING First, pick the right community college. “The first thing you have to assess is whether or not the community college has a transfer-going culture,” said Stephen Handel, who is executive director of community college initiatives for the College Board and began his undergraduate education at one himself. Call or visit the advising office of community colleges you’re considering and ask what percentage of students who complete an associate’s degree transfer to a four-year university. Also, which universities do they end up going to and in what numbers? Then, call the admissions staff at your target transfer university and ask them how many transfer students they take each year. Which community colleges send them the most students? What tends to get in the way of them gaining admission and then succeeding? Pretty quickly, you’ll start hearing horror stories of students who took the wrong classes at community college and couldn’t get into a four-year university or ended up having to spend three or more years at the university making up credits.
Thankfully, a number of state universities and community colleges have made it easier to figure out all the rules ahead of time. The American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers has put together a state-by-state guide on its website. Keep two crucial questions in mind here. Which credits will count toward the general education or distribution requirements at your four-year college or university? And if you have a target major, which community college classes could you take that would count toward that as well?
AN EARLY START Budget cuts are posing enormous challenges for higher education systems just as more people are trying to return to retrain and retool. The resulting enrollment bottleneck has hit many community colleges especially hard. So if you’re going to get into the classes you need and get out in two years or less, you need to be first in line come registration time. Don’t wait until a few weeks ahead to sign up. Peter Reagan, a 19-year-old student at Santa Monica College, a community college in Santa Monica, Calif., hopes to be eligible for enrolling in aUniversity of California campus this fall after just over a year at Santa Monica. But it wasn’t easy to pile up the credits he needed. Many of the classes he had hoped to take were closed to online enrollment by the time he logged on. So he scrambled. “During the first two weeks of classes, I was going to different ones all day every day trying to add the ones I needed, taking whatever I could get,” he said. “I’d heard that inevitably, even if you don’t get in on the first day, the worst-case scenario is that you keep showing up and hope that somebody drops the class,” he said. “That happens in every class. But I didn’t have to do that. I got rejected from a lot of classes, but I also got into enough of the ones that I needed.” This approach requires flexibility, which will complicate matters for people who also need to work. Try to find a job ahead of time that has at least a little bit of flexibility.
SPECIALIZED ADVICE Most community colleges will have at least one adviser who knows how to work the transfer system. Your task is to hunt down those people before you enroll and pick your classes. “To transfer, you have to complete 60 transferable units, which is quite doable if you are coming to me in April of your senior year in high school,” said Dan Nannini, the transfer center faculty leader at Santa Monica College, describing the path that most aspiring transfer students take. “If you do what I tell you, you will transfer. It’s not a mystery here in California.” And how often should you visit someone like him once you enroll? “My line is that we’re like dentists,” he said. “You should see us twice a year.”
THE HONORS ADVANTAGE James Fishbein, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, has seen plenty of transfer students come through his office. One thing he wonders is whether they’ve surrounded themselves with peers who pushed them academically in the two years before he sees them. “At every university, there are at least some people who want to get into law or medical or business school,” he said. “They may know a lot of stuff that you don’t.” These people are at community colleges, too, but you’re more likely to find them in greater numbers in an honors program, which many community colleges maintain. Be sure to ask about this when you are applying.
A SMOOTH LANDING Mr. Fishbein said that in his experience the vast majority of students who transferred from community colleges stumbled at first. One slip-up, such as getting a low grade in a science class that is a prerequisite for other classes in your major, can make a mess of your financial plan. “Depending on the course schedule, there may be workarounds, but every one costs money — say, if you need to take another semester or enroll in summer school,” he said. Jonathan Chong, 21, who is in his first year at the University of California, Los Angeles after transferring from community college, acknowledges the challenge. “One thing it didn’t prepare me for was the speed,” he said. “That’s where I’ve had to step up my game.” Mr. Chong has formed study groups with some fellow community college alumni to help keep up.
THE BENEFITS If community college isn’t where you saw yourself beginning your quest for higher education, stop feeling sorry for yourself. “Some of our challenge is demystifying what community college is,” said Irma Medina, senior coordinator of a program at Holyoke Community College in Holyoke, Mass., that has sent over 150 graduates to colleges like Mount Holyoke and Smith in recent years. “This isn’t 13th grade. We have great faculty here that even taught at Harvard. So you made the right choice by being here.” You might even get to meet those faculty, too. Part of the reason Bret Johnston, 21, chose community college was that it offered him more flexibility to take time off each year to pursue rock-climbing while he’s still young. (His father, Rich, the University of Puget Sound graduate, owns Vertical World, a chain of climbing gyms, and Bret works there to make money.) But when he’s in class at Shoreline Community College in Washington, he’s been struck by how different his experience has been from those of his peers. “I’ve had so many friends who have taken a 500-person English 101 lecture, and for a lot of money,” he said. “I took that same class in a 25-person room and got a lot out of it.”
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April 11, 2008
6 In-Demand Jobs for Community College Grads
Community college degrees offer quick completion at a relatively small cost. Many positions on the following list requiring an Associate’s degree are in health care, so if you enjoy health care, your future looks bright. Average starting salaries in 2015 were:
- Mechanical Insulation Worker: Starting salary with no experience about $39,170 – Individuals who work on pipes, machinery, and HVAC systems are in very high demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects this field to grow at a rate of 47% through 2020, making it the fastest growing occupation that does not require a four-year degree.
- Dental Hygienist: Pay with experience about $70,120 – A dental hygienist is often responsible for cleaning a patient’s teeth, applying fluoride and sealants, and taking and developing dental x-rays. Record keeping and clerical work may also be expected. The BLS projects growth of 33% in the next few years.
- Medical Equipment Repairer: Average pay about $44,570 – These workers install, maintain, and repair medical equipment, and they demonstrate how the equipment works. They work in hospitals, homes, or dental and eye clinics. The BLS expects the field to grow by 30% in the next 10 years.
- Nuclear Medicine Technologist: Pay of $50,560 to $93,320; most earn about $70,180 – These individuals use highly technological medical equipment to scan patients’ bodies for abnormalities. They prepare and administer radioactive drugs to patients, which highlight abnormal areas in the scans. Interpretation of the scan’s results is left to a physician. The BLS expects 20% growth through 2022.
- Respiratory Therapist: Beginning salary of about $41,000; most earn about $56,000 – A respiratory therapist provides therapy to patients with breathing difficulties. They evaluate patients, consult with physicians, perform tests, and analyze test data. They monitor a patient’s progress during treatments and teach patients how to use their respiratory equipment. The BLS predicts growth of 20% over the next few years.
- Nuclear Technician: Most earn about $70,000 but $97,000 is possible – You’ll find these workers in a nuclear power plant. They assist physicists and engineers with research, measure levels of radiation produced by their research, power production, and other activities. Collection and analysis of soil, water, and air is the primary duty of nuclear technicians. The field is expected to grow by 15% over the next decade.
10 jobs that don't require college degrees
Report: Here are 10 ‘opportunity’ jobs for folks in Philly without a four-year college degree
14 Good Jobs That Do Not Require a College Diploma
TEPatch website – May 29, 2013
As tough as the labor market is, college grads still have an easier time than those with only a high school degree. In February 2013, college graduates had an unemployment rate of 3.8 percent—compared to a staggering 11 percent for those with only a high school diploma. Still, a new study released Tuesday shows that there are some good careers out there for those who lack a four-year degree.
CareerCast.com, the job-portal site, compiled a list of 14 good careers that require only a high school degree (though some require additional training). The site used a variety of criteria to assess the quality of the careers, including salary, how physically demanding the positions are, and emotional factors such as the fields’ competitiveness, potential hazards and stress. Those with the lowest score received the highest ranking. CareerCast.com also looked at the potential income and employment growth for the decade ending in 2020, using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Overall, the 14 jobs for high school grads offer an average median salary of $41,307, which means the group is in line with the overall average salary for all Americans. The highest-paying job on the list offers a median salary of $77,000 a year. But several of the careers on CareerCast’s list offer incomes of around $20,000.
1. Administrative/executive assistant
2. Automobile body repairer
4. Communications equipment mechanic
7. Hair stylist
8. Industrial machine repairer
9. Paralegal assistant
10. Pest control worker
13. Skincare specialist
14. Web developer
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