Earning your bachelor’s degree at community college can be a more affordable and flexible option than a four-year institution, but there are some restrictions to consider as well.
A growing number of community colleges award bachelor’s degrees, though they are not yet widely available. Of the 24 states that have approved baccalaureate programs, the actual number of community colleges offering the degree varies . For example, while 27 community colleges in Florida offer a bachelor’s degree, only four do in Colorado at the time of writing .
Earning your bachelor’s degree at community college can be a more affordable and flexible option than a four-year institution, but there are some restrictions to consider as well. For instance, there may not be as many majors to choose from, and not every community college in an approved state offers a bachelor’s degree program.
Learn more about the rise in community college bachelor’s degrees and what you should assess before deciding to get one.
Community colleges have traditionally been known as two-year institutions because they primarily award two-year degrees, also called associate degrees, and certificates. Thanks to the lower tuition and fees typical of community colleges, many students have opted to earn their associate degree there before transferring to a four-year college or university to finish their bachelor’s degree.
As community colleges have expanded their offerings to bachelor’s degrees, however, more students have taken advantage of that option. In 2019, more than 20,000 students earned their bachelor’s degree from community college, according to the American Association of Community Colleges .
There are many reasons why you might choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree at community college as opposed to another type of institution, including your educational needs, career needs, and circumstances. Here are four reasons why earning a community college bachelor's can be beneficial in light of those factors:
Generally, tuition and fees at public community colleges tend to be lower. For in-state students, the average annual cost of attending a community college was $3,800 in 2021, compared to $10,740 for a public four-year school . Those savings add up when you apply them to a four-year bachelor’s degree.
Community colleges tend to offer more career-oriented degrees—like a Bachelor of Science in Business Health Information Management or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing—to meet workforce demands, according to a report from the Education Commission of the States .
If you earn your bachelor’s degree from a community college, your major will likely focus on practical and technical knowledge you can apply to in-demand industries, such as health care, business, and biomanufacturing. Plus, some community colleges have partnerships with local businesses, which may lead to helpful internships and even job placement.
Community colleges tend to be more diverse in a number of ways. They typically serve a higher number of adult or professional learners: 36 percent of community college students are between the ages of 22 and 39 , as opposed to 9 percent of university students .
It’s also a more popular option for first-generation students—or students who are the first in their family to attend college. According to the Postsecondary National Policy Institute, 53 percent of first-gen students chose to attend community college as opposed to a four-year school .
Learn more about what it means to be a nontraditional student.
To accommodate students’ needs, many community colleges offer flexible scheduling, which can help if you need to work through your degree requirements at your own pace. Since many community college students also work part-time or full-time, or have competing obligations, community colleges tend to schedule more night and weekend classes.
That flexibility may be especially attractive if you’re a parent. One out of five college students has a child , and recent findings show that parents between the ages of 18 and 24 attend community college three times more than four-year schools .
There are pros and cons to earning your bachelor’s degree at a community college, but the factors below can help you determine whether it's a good decision for you.
Community college classes tend to be smaller because there are fewer students to accommodate. In 2020, Arizona State University enrolled 63,124 students and University of Central Florida enrolled 61,456 . Public community colleges, on the other hand, average a student body of 6,155 .
While class size differs by community college, many introductory courses accommodate between 25 and 35 students, whereas introductory courses at four-year schools may include up to 300 students . If you prefer learning in a smaller group setting, earning your bachelor’s at community college may offer you more opportunities to do that.
If you’ll be working while going to school, you’ll be in good company at community college. As of 2019, 62 percent of full-time students worked, while 72 percent of part-time students worked . If you need greater scheduling flexibility to take classes around your other obligations, then a community college may have more options for you.
Unlike four-year institutions, community colleges do not offer the same volume of majors. Of the community colleges approved to offer a bachelor's degree, most only have one or two majors at that level.
But those majors tend to focus more on career readiness. For example, popular community college bachelor’s degree majors in Florida include business supervision management, public safety, and information technology. In Washington, popular majors include business and health and safety .
Read more: What Should I Major In?
Only 24 states have made it possible for community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees, as of November 2021. If you live in a state that has not made that option available and would like a four-year degree, it’s still possible to earn your associate degree at community college and apply to transfer to a four-year institution. Doing so could help reduce your overall tuition and fees.
If you’re wondering whether a bachelor’s degree from a community college is as valuable as a four-year institution, the ultimate value should be measured in what you learn. If you’re trying to decide between a community college or four-year institution, spend some time viewing each school’s curriculum requirements and see how classes compare.
It can also help to list the factors that matter most to you, such as low tuition cost, faculty with real-world experience, a comprehensive program curriculum, or career placement, so you can decide which degree-granting institution best fits your needs. If you have questions about which type of college or university will be best for your particular needs, consider making an appointment with an academic advisor who works exclusively with prospective students.
Florida and Washington top the list of 24 states that now offer bachelor’s degrees at community college. Other states include California, Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana, Minnesota, Ohio, and Oregon, South Carolina, and Texas.
It’s unclear when the remaining states will make a four-year degree available at traditionally two-year institutions. To learn more about whether your state offers a four-year community college degree, look at your state’s Department of Education website, or search for your state and “community college bachelor’s” for more information.
If you’re interested in earning your bachelor’s degree and would like affordable and flexible options, an online degree may be a strong alternative to attending community college or an on-campus program at a four-year institution. Unlike community colleges, which may require you to take a portion of your classes in-person, you can complete an online degree wherever there’s internet access. Explore bachelor's degrees in practical and in-demand areas such as marketing, computer science, and business administration from top universities on Coursera.
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2. Community College Baccalaureate Association. "New Baccalaureate Series, https://www.accbd.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/NewBA_DataNote3_Page_08.jpg." Accessed November 11, 2021.
3. American Association of Community Colleges. "Fast Facts 2021, https://www.aacc.nche.edu/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/AACC_2021_FastFacts-1.jpg." Accessed November 10, 2021.
4. College Board. "Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid 2021, https://research.collegeboard.org/pdf/trends-college-pricing-student-aid-2021.pdf." Accessed November 11, 2021.
5. Education Commission of the States. "Community College Bachelor's Degrees, https://www.ecs.org/wp-content/uploads/Community-College-Bachelors-Degrees.pdf." Accessed November 11, 2021.
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9. US News. "10 Colleges with the Most Undergraduate Students, https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/the-short-list-college/articles/colleges-with-the-most-undergraduates." Accessed November 11, 2021.
10. Community College Review. "Average Community College Student Size, https://www.communitycollegereview.com/average-college-size-stats/national-data." Accessed November 11, 2021.
11. Think Impact. "Community College Statistics, https://www.thinkimpact.com/community-college-statistics/." Accessed November 12, 2021.
12. American Association of Community Colleges. "2019 Fact Sheet, https://www.aacc.nche.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/AACC2019FactSheet_rev.pdf." Accessed November 12, 2021.
This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.