Here’s the thing about apples and oranges: yes, they’re both round and, yes, they’re both fruit… but ultimately, they have more differences than they do similarities. That makes comparing them a mostly (ahem) fruitless effort. What’s more, different regional varieties of apples can be just as different from one another as they can from their citrus-y tropical cousins.
No, duh, right? Well, pretend instead of “apples” and “oranges,” the above description was about community colleges and private universities. It’s hard to say that one is “better” than the other when community colleges in Pennsylvania can have as little in common with those in Alabama as universities in California. The truth is, the only way for anyone to determine which is the better option is to see how they measure up when it comes to the things they personally value.
Here, then, are just some of the ways community colleges contrast with universities so that you can decide for yourself.
PRO: One-on-one education
Community colleges tend to have smaller class sizes, allowing students to receive more one-on-one attention from instructors and more personalized learning experiences based on their individual needs. Additionally, smaller classrooms often create stronger bonds between classmates, facilitating friendships that often last long past graduation.
CON: No on-campus housing
Living away from home is something many young people do only for the first time attending college, with most finding it an important, formative experience. Community colleges, however, rarely, if ever, provide on-campus housing, meaning that most students continue living with their parents and commute to school each day. While students can find housing on their own nearby campus, it’s rarely as convenient or affordable as a university dorm.
PRO: Affordable tuition costs
One of the biggest advantages community colleges have over universities is affordability. Students can typically save anywhere from a third to a half of their yearly tuition costs by attending a community college instead of a university. Even for students who wish to attend a university later, completing general education courses at a community college and then transferring the credits is a good way of saving money.
CON: Lack of competitive sports
In some ways, community colleges represent a stripped-down, education-first approach to learning, with little to offer in the way of frills. That’s why few community colleges bother with homecoming dances or sporting events. For those hoping to go to school on an athletic scholarship, this means community college is often not an option.
PRO: More financial resources
Community colleges receive most of their financial resources from state funding, local taxes, and student tuitions. Meanwhile, private universities receive funding through tuition (which tends to be much higher) and through endowments, donations, and fundraisers. This generally gives them more resources to spend on employees, technology, campus buildings, visiting lecturers, and more.
CON: Everything is expensive
As noted above, one of the reasons that private universities have more money to spread around is because they charge more for tuition. That isn’t the only way they squeeze money out of students, however. Textbooks, room & board, computer lab fees, printing fees, parking fees, meal plans, and other hidden costs all need to be taken into consideration, as well as other expenses associated with living on one’s own (such as gas, food, entertainment, etc.).
PRO: Greater degree variety
While community colleges emphasize providing a foundational education, private universities have a greater opportunity to cater to niche interests and hyper-specialized career paths. This means that universities tend to offer courses students may not find anywhere else. It also means students can continue their education through Ph.D., MFA, and similar postgraduate programs.
CON: Less time to live life
Not everyone has the luxury of dedicating every waking hour to their education. Nevertheless, this is more often than not what private universities demand of their students. For those trying to balance school with a full or part-time job, family obligations, or other pursuits, community colleges usually provide greater flexibility.