Posted in College Admission, College Majors, Community college, Dual Enrollment

$2000 Bachelor’s Degrees in NC

“My son is taking all his classes for 12th grade at the community college, he will be graduating in May with both his high school diploma from our homeschool and associates degree from our local community college” 

-Jayne L., North Carolina homeschooling parent.

The topic of today’s post is targeted toward our North Carolina families, but the takeaway isn’t that you should relocate to North Carolina, it’s that in almost every state there are strategies you can build around the resources you have available to you.  I know many non-NC adults who “hacked” their education and earned AA or BA degrees for pennies on the dollar (I’m on that list!)  For the motivated, there are a lot of ways to save money, but this post is my deconstruction and then reconstruction of the resources in NC, assembled in a way that maxes out the benefits available to parents.

I like to point out that I volunteer at our county’s library as a college planning expert.  Several times per year I give homeschooling for college credit presentations, championing the educational benefits available to those in North Carolina .  10 times out of 10, a parent will tell me they had no idea these resources were available to their teen, and that their teen could complete a degree this way instead of earning an academic scholarship, or taking on a lot of student loan debt.  Nevermind the opportunity to oversee the process while their teen is still living at home instead of sending them away to college and hoping their college advisors are good stewards of your teen’s time and money.

In short, make it your mission to find the programs in your state, and build a ladder that takes advantage of each and every one- then share that ladder with others.  The more brainpower we have working the problem, the greater we all benefit!

College costs:  Tuition, books, fees, meals, housing, and transportation.  No matter what your teen is doing, they have to live somewhere and eat something.  Sure, they can do that on campus and in a cafeteria, but my advice is that they live and eat at home.  I also like to rent textbooks or buy used editions whenver possible.

You have to plan ahead

Starting in high school, the homeschool parent has the option of bringing college credit into their high school -but since each parent acts as their teen’s guidance counselor, sometimes they don’t know what they don’t know.  Parents are great at high school planning, but may not understand dual enrollment planning.  In high school, the Career and College Promise advisor can help you with dual enrollment, but they aren’t great at helping with degree planning.  In community college, the advisors can help you with your AA/AS degree, but they aren’t great at helping you plan your BA/BS.  At a 4 year university, the advisors can help you earn your BA/BS, but they can’t go back in time to correct the inefficiencies from 1-2-3-4 years earlier.

There is no ONE PERSON IN THE SYSTEM that can advise for your teen from 10th grade through college graduation.  You have to take on the role of guidance counselor – Each employee has their niche, but the only common thread is YOU!  No one cares about the efficiency or cost or time or completion of your teen’s college degree more than you.  There are a lot of moving parts in the process.  BUT,  with a bit of planning and adjusting as your teen advances, they’ll get out the other end with a degree.


High School (Grades 9 & 10)

So, first things first, grades 9 & 10 must be academically robust enough that your teen can test into College Algebra and into College Composition.  In North Carolina, our high school students all have access to a state-wide dual enrollment program called Career & College Promise.  Each of the 58 community colleges has programs (called Pathways) available to your teen, some starting in 9th grade, but most start in 11th grade.  To complete the $2000 Bachelor’s degree, your teen needs to start taking courses in their AA Transfer Pathway or AS Transfer Pathway in fall (August) of 11th grade.

What age?  In NC, dual enrollment isn’t based on age, it’s based on grade.  The homeschool parent gets to decide when their teen is ready for 11th grade.

For teens headed to a 4-year college, taking advantage of the AA Transfer Pathway or the AS Transfer Pathway is a tuition-free way to earn unlimited college credit in high school. (you read that correctly- unlimited)  This is the key component of the $2000 Bachelor’s Degree.  In NC, students choosing one of the Transfer Pathways must meet placement test benchmarks.  If your teen doesn’t meet the benchmark, they can still take college classes, but they won’t be able to follow the plan in this post.  Your teen must take the Accuplacer exam in the middle or end of 10th grade.  If they don’t earn a high enough score, they can retest, but they can’t start until they hit the benchmark. Unlike an SAT or ACT, you can take an Accuplacer anytime you want and as many times as you want- the first time is free.  Simply call your closest NC Community College and schedule it with the testing center.

(Note:  if your teen has already taken the PSAT, SAT, Pre-ACT, ACT, Compass, Asset, PLAN, or NCDAP, your teen’s score may already be high enough to meet this benchmark- ask your local community college’s Career & College Promise coordinator for more help.) 

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High School (Grades 11 & 12)

Grade 11 (FALL) is when your teen must begin their pathway courses.  Your teen will have access to 3 semesters as an 11th grader (fall, spring, summer) and 3 more as a 12th grader (fall, spring, summer).  A pathway consists of about 30 credits and will fit inside of their associate degree, which will fit inside a bachelor’s degree.  Use this for visual reference:

AA Transfer Pathway (30) –> AA Degree (60) –> BA Degree (120)

or

AS Transfer Pathway (30) –> AS Degree (60) –> BS Degree (120)

No matter which community college you use for Career and College Promise classes, the pathway requirements are set at the state level, so “where” they take their classes doesn’t change the process.  Note that your teen is allowed to take pathway classes at any college, it doesn’t have to be your closest campus.  And, the entire AA and AS pathway can be completed online as a distance learning student – so they don’t need to go to campus to take their courses!

“We used two different community colleges and almost a third. One had stronger English and math instructors while the other’s strong suit was history and sociology. The third – CPCC – has a phenomenal online program.”

-Yvonne, Homeschooling for College Credit North Carolina Facebook Moderator

An important point when planning your teen’s courses, it is possible to complete the full AA or AS degree in high school, however, your teen can’t take courses “off-pathway” until they’ve done the entire pathway.  That means, no matter how much your teen wants to take a second psychology course, they won’t have access to the college catalog until every course on the Transfer Pathway has been “checked off.”  The goal is to get off-pathway as efficiently and quickly as possible.

Pathway courses can be completed using community college courses, AP exams for college credit, or CLEP exams for college credit.  Not all NC community colleges apply exam credit the same way- shop around!

If you’re aiming for the most efficient schedule, your teen should enroll accordingly:

  • FALL 11th GRADE:  12-15 credits (4-5 pathway classes)
  • SPRING 11th GRADE:  12-15 credits (4-5 pathway classes)
  • SUMMER between 11th/12th GRADE: 3-6 credits (1-2 pathway/degree classes)
  • FALL 12th GRADE:  12-15 credits (4-5 degree classes)
  • SPRING 12th GRADE:  12-15 credits (4-5 degree classes)

Parents often consider ways to use CLEP or AP exams to either lighten a teen’s course load or accelerate the pathway/degree process.  Keep in mind that CLEP and AP exams cost just under $100 each, so there is an added cost to using these, however, the benefit may be worth it to your family in other ways.  When CLEP and AP credit is earned inside an AA or AS degree that will be used at an NC public university, the exam credit is locked into the transfer agreement and won’t be thrown out – even if the NC public university doesn’t normally award CLEP / AP credit.

“My son took and passed 7 CLEPs during 9th & 10th grade. The AA pathway consists of 11 courses the student must complete before moving on to other classes, his CLEPs knocked out 6 of those classes.  I HIGHLY recommend keeping a spreadsheet to track what your child’s CLEP exams will come in as and what classes they have to complete on the pathway so that you can plan each semester accordingly.”

-NC Homeschooling Parent

If you think 4-5 courses per semester may be too much for your teen, consider enrolling them in the “short” versions of each course.  Most courses come in 2 schedule options, 8 weeks or 16 weeks.  By using 8-week options, you can “stack” 2 courses into a single time slot.

FALL 11th GRADE

  • ENG111 (weeks 1-8)  3 credits
  • ENG 112 (weeks 9-16) 3 credits
  • SOC210 (weeks 1-8) 3 credits
  • PSY150 (weeks 9-16) 3 credits
  • MAT161 (weeks 1-16) 3 credits

Observe that this student is taking 15 credits, but at any given time will only be taking 3 classes at a time (English 1, Sociology, and College Algebra) for 8 weeks, and then (English 2, Psychology, and College Algebra) for 8 weeks.

 What’s on the AA or AS Pathway?


 

Off Pathway- On Degree

At some point in the 11th or 12th grade school year, your teen will be eligible to go “off-pathway” and start checking boxes toward their associate’s degree.  It’s important for me to emphasize that even if your teen can’t finish their entire associate’s degree in high school, that they keep plugging away and finish their degree before matriculating into their target university.  In order to get that “transfer guarantee” offered by our state, your teen must complete the full degree.  Even just one credit short means that their target university will evaluate each and every class, AP, and CLEP exam- which could mean credit being lost in the transfer.  You don’t want that! This whole plan is based on the protected right we have to get a full and perfect transfer.

While working a degree plan, the community college advising team should be included in course selection and guidance with your teen.  You’ll want to be sure that each course brings your teen one step closer to their degree, and that there are no missteps.  Double check that your teen is following the correct degree plan:  AA or AS TRANSFER DEGREE.  Degrees with other titles (Associate of Applied Science, Associate Degree in Nursing, etc.) can transfer too, but the planning is not as cut and dry as AA/AS, and the nuances of planning go beyond the scope of today’s post.  If your teen is pursuing anything other than an AA or AS, they need to check in with their college advisor each and every semester before choosing classes.


 High School and College Graduation

If you worked the plan, your teen will be ready for their high school diploma (issued by you) and will walk across their community college stage to receive their associate’s degree.  Double win!

Having completed the AA/AS degree, your teen will apply to our public universities as a transfer student.  If your teen doesn’t finish the degree and only has accumulated college credit, your teen must apply as a freshman.  Transfer students in North Carolina who hold a full AA/AS degree don’t have to take the SAT exam or meet the “high school entrance” course requirements.

The entire process of exiting a community college with an AA/AS degree and transferring into a public university is HEAVILY REGULATED and standardized by our state.  It’s called our Comprehensive Articulation Agreement, and the contents are public information.  This is a huge advantage because you can learn everything there is to know about the process- just like an academic advisor.  In fact, traditional high school guidance counselors do not advise students on coordinating high school and college graduation simultaneously – it’s beyond their scope of practice.

Don’t be suprised if you encounter the occasional College Admissions Representative who doesn’t know or understand the Comprehensive Articulation Agreement policy as well as you do.  What you’re planning to do is extraordinary.

Tuition Cost for AA / AS Degree:  $0



Onward to the Bachelor’s Degree

To take full advantage of what NC has to offer, you’ll want to tap into their newest program that goes into effect FALL 2018 called North Carolina Promise Program.  The Promise Program has selected 3 colleges in NC that will allow your teen to enroll for a tuition cost of $500 per semester.  This means, your teen can complete their last 2 years of college (4 semesters) for only $2000.  Note that even if your teen doesn’t choose a Promise school, their AA / AS degree is still a guaranteed perfect transfer- but you’ll pay tuition at the rack rate.

You should budget in costs of textbooks (renting or buying used is often a big cost saving) as well as fees.  Most colleges have hidden fees or insurance costs.  You can find these out in advance, and use them as you calculate costs.  EVERY COLLEGE DIFFERS in their fees, so be sure to check all three.

Through NC Promise, the state will significantly reduce student tuition cost at three UNC system institutions – Elizabeth City State University, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, and Western Carolina University – beginning in Fall 2018. The plan will increase educational access, reduce student debt and grow the state’s economy.  -NC Promise

To keep costs to a bare minimum, you’ll have to address housing.  If you’re fortunate enough to live within commuting distance (Pembroke, Elizabeth City, or Cullowhee) you can avoid the cost of student housing (between $2,000-$4,000 per semester!) by keeping your teen at home.  For two years of housing, this impacts your overall budget by $8,000 – $16,000!  Add in meals, and the “housing question” is no small decision.

What if you don’t live near one of the 3 campuses?  2 of the colleges (UNC-P and WCU) offer a selection of degrees that can be completed as a distance learning student!  Of the the three, WCU offers the most online programs, UNCP is a close second, and ECSU offers next to no distance programs. While not “every” major could (or should) be completed as a distance learner, but some of the degrees are offered both ways- so distance learning allows your teen to live at home, avoid transportation costs, and save travel time to and from campus.

What about stigma?  Distance learning won’t bring a stigma that came with the older correspondence colleges, degree mills, and shady for-profit schools of the late 90’s and early 2000’s.  Distance learning is now mainstream!  In 2018, over 98% of all public colleges and universities participate in distance learning technology (offers one or more courses in a distance learning format), and in almost every case, no distinction is made on the transcript or degree- in other words, the degree from either of those three state schools is identical whether earned online or on campus.

What about fees?  All colleges add in fees, the million dollar questions are “what kind of fees- and how much are they?”  Some fees you can control, for instance, a parking pass isn’t required if you’re not attending classes on campus, at Western Carolina University that saves you $350 per year.  Elizabeth State also has an $80 laundry fee you won’t have to worry about, but bouncing a check will cost you no less than $25 at each school.

Fees that you should expect include Technology Fees ( about $300/year), Activity Fees (about $600/year), and in some cases, you’ll have a Health Insurance Fee if your teen doesn’t already have health insurance through a parent.  Note that fees for residential (staying on campus) students and distance learning (not staying on campus) are usually different.  Be sure you’re looking at the correct classification.  Also note that with a completed AA/AS degree in hand, your teen isn’t subject to “freshman fees.”


Distance Learning Programs at Promise Schools (2018)

NOTE:  As of this writing, the Promise Program is in progress to launch- you won’t find accurate tuition and fees listed… yet.  I’m even seeing rack rate tuition. Stay tuned.

Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC

  • Birth-Kindergarten Teacher
  • Business Administration
  • Criminal Justice 
  • Emergency and Disaster Management
  • Engineering Technology (Off-site/Hybrid Program)
  • Innovation Leadership and Entrepreneurship
  • RN to BSN (Nursing)

The University of North Carolina, Pembroke, NC

  • Criminal Justice
  • Sociology
  • Interdisciplinary Studies (Applied Professional Studies, Applied Information Technology, Criminal Justice, or Public and Non-Profit Administration)
  • Business Administration (Finance, Management, or Marketing.) 

Elizabeth State University, Elizabeth City, NC

Elizabeth State makes it harder for students to earn a degree via distance learning because they only separate out a list of courses the student can complete online.  I believe that they expect all students to attend on campus as a rule and that online learning allows for exceptions.  Based on what I could cobble together on their website, none of their degrees can be fully completed as a distance learning student.  This may change if their enrollment increases as a result of the Promise Program.  I’ll keep you updated.  Majors offered at Elizabeth State.

Tuition Cost for AA / AS Degree:  $0

Tuition Cost for BA / BS Degree:  $500 per sem x 4 

Tuition Total:  $2,000


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If you’re homeschooling for college credit and live in North Carolina, you’ll want to get the inside scoop by joining our NC HS4CC Facebook group!  Readers from other areas of the country can find their state’s Facebook group here.

In closing, even if you don’t take advantage of the new Promise program, every homeschooling teen in NC can take advantage of the AA/AS option.  More encouragement from the North Carolina Homeschooling for College Credit Facebook group:

“My daughter graduated in 2016 with her AA, she transferred to UNCC, moved into her major after taking 2 classes that were needed for it over the summer, and will be graduating with her BS in May ’18 and early admitted to a master’s program and will be graduating that May ’19.”

  –Denise W., NC homeschooling parent


“My daughter transferred to Chapel Hill with her associates in liberal studies. She does have to take three semesters of foreign language and one life fitness class as part of the general requirements to graduate from Chapel Hill, but her Associates fulfilled the rest of the requirements for general ed and she is on track to graduate in two years.”

– Jennifer Brauns Anthony, NC homeschooling parent


“Western was great on transferring my daughters credits even before she committed to attend (which she did not) and if you had a AA or AS completed you were automatically in as a junior”

-Jackie P., NC homeschooling parent

Posted in College Majors, Community college

Reader Question: Is there a low-cost way to do medical school?

Q:  Is there a low-cost way to do med school? 

A:  Yes and no.  Medical school is expensive, and to get there, you need a bachelor’s degree first!  So, you’re talking about a LOT of education.  My BIGGEST piece of advice is to keep your undergraduate degree as low as humanly possible because you’ll be paying interest on THOSE student loans for a long time if you take any.

UNDERGRADUATE NOTES:  Unless your teen receives a full tuition full room and board scholarship to a private or out of state school, the lowest cost process is as follows:  use CLEP, AP and dual enrollment in high school for everything except for the sciences.  Attend your community college for the first two years (general education) earning EXCEPTIONAL grades (you’ll need all A’s), apply for the Phi Theta Kappa Community College scholarship.  Transfer to an in-state public university and live at home while doing so.  Take 15 credits per semester to graduate in 4 years while using summer to work (for money) and volunteer in a medical capacity (for service hours). 

But, there are some tricks and strategies you can use to bring the cost of Medical School down.  Can you attend for free?  In some cases, yes.  

(1)  The Ph.D. Md route.  Ahh, even MORE education!   If your teen has completed a lot of college credit in high school, they are probably younger than their peers anyway, so what’s another couple years?  Kidding aside, this isn’t an easy route, but you can “add” the research doctorate to your med school process, and usually, they will provide some amount of free tuition and or a stipend for doing so.

(2) National Health Service Corps Scholarship.   This is a 100% tuition scholarship for medical school (also counts for Physician Assistant, Dentistry, Doctor of Nurse Practitioner, or Certified Nurse Midwife) in addition, you get a $1316/month stipend, all fees, books, clinical supplies, uniforms, and educational supplementary fees covered 100%. Some students will also qualify for partial or full undergraduate loan forgiveness.
Recipients of this scholarship will have to repay each year of scholarship with 1 year of service (2-4 years) in a health professional shortage area – in other words, you can’t choose where you work immediately after graduation. You commit to working (full salary) in certain areas where they *really* need doctors, dentists, etc. After those few years of service are fulfilled, you can go on with your practice as you choose. As of 2016, they awarded 330 full awards. What they DON’T disclose is how many applicants try for it. You can assume it is competitive, but in my experience, FEWER THAN YOU THINK will apply. A lot of the time, scholarships are left on the table because people don’t apply.  Application cycles open early Jan/Feb of each year.   http://www.nhsc.hrsa.gov/scholarships

(3)  Attend in-state public.  Apply to ALL of the MD (and DO) programs, of course, but it’s usually cheaper to attend a public university as an in-state student.  Not all states have medical schools, and of those that do, many are private (typically charge the same for instate and out of state) but if you’re in a position to choose, it’s a lot less expensive.  Wikipedia has a nice state-by-state list of all the medical schools.  List of Medical Schools

Example of cost difference at the University of Colorado School of Medicine

in-state 4 years:  ~$146,000

out of state 4 years:  ~$250,000

(4) Health Professions Scholarship (Military).  Army, Navy, and Air Force will all pay 100% of the student’s medical, dental, advanced practice nursing, optometry, pharmacy, veterinary, social worker, or physician assistant tuition.  Candidates must already possess a bachelor’s degree and have an acceptance letter to a med school program before they can enlist.  Incentives vary based on branches of service, but during professional training (med school), the student is placed on inactive reserve.   Upon completion, they begin their service obligation as an officer and will complete anywhere from 4-6 years of service.

Examples of the different branch’s incentives for 2016:

100% tuition, textbooks, lab, and fees

$2,000 per month cash stipend

$20,000 sign on bonus


There are a lot of math/cost questions surrounding the medical school question.  Is it worth it? Most number-crunchers say “no” but they are assuming you’re paying rack rate for tuition. The 1 Million Dollar Mistake …and you’d never let your teen do that, right?

The American Association of Medical Colleges publishes a record of all costs of all medical schools each year.


U.S. NEWS RANKING

Remember to multiply tuition shown x4

Below is a list of the 10 least expensive public medical schools based on tuition and required fees. Unranked schools, which did not meet certain criteria required by U.S. News to be numerically ranked, were not considered for this report. The F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, a federal service postgraduate academy that waives tuition and fees in return for military service, was excluded from this list.

Medical school (name) (state) In-state tuition & fees (2015-2016) U.S. News research rank U.S. News primary care rank
Texas A&M Health Science Center $16,432 76 (tie) 78 (tie)
University of Texas Health Science Center—San Antonio $17,661 60 (tie) 71 (tie)
Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center $17,737 84 (tie) 84 (tie)
University of North Texas Health Science Center $19,022 RNP* 50 (tie)
University of New Mexico $19,233 78 (tie) 45 (tie)
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center $19,343 25 (tie) 21 (tie)
University of Texas Health Science Center—Houston $20,092 56 (tie) RNP
Marshall University (Edwards) (WV) $20,100 RNP RNP
West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine $21,650 RNP RNP
East Carolina University (Brody) (NC) $22,281 88 (tie) 32 (tie)

 

Below is a list of the 10 ranked private medical schools with the lowest tuition and fees in 2016. Two of these schools offer discounts to in-state residents – the Baylor College of Medicine and the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami. The prices given for the schools in this article are the full-freight rates paid by out-of-state students. Unranked schools, which did not meet certain criteria required by U.S. News to be numerically ranked, were not considered for this report.

School (name) (state) Tuition and fees (2016-2017) U.S. News research rank U.S. News primary care rank
Baylor College of Medicine (TX) $32,663 21 8 (tie)
Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (PA) $33,055 RNP RNP
University of Miami (Miller) (FL) $42,642 48 (tie) 68
University of Pikeville (KY) $42,975 RNP RNP
Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine—Virginia, Carolinas, and Auburn $43,800 RNP RNP
Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences (MO) $44,595 RNP RNP
Lincoln Memorial University (DeBusk) (TN) $47,880 RNP RNP
Hofstra University (NY) $49,500 71 (tie) 55 (tie)
Mayo Clinic School of Medicine (MN) $49,900 20 31 (tie)
Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine (NY) $50,270 RNP RNP
Posted in College Admission, Community college, Dual Enrollment, Uncategorized

Community College in the News

NPR Want to Finish College?

Did anyone read The Center for Community College Student Engagement Report 2017? Maybe not, but you may have read about it on NPR’s website this morning.  If you have the time, you can read the quick summary linked above.  I’m going to take a moment and share my thoughts, which I think other Homeschooling for College Credit parents may find useful.

“Center for Community College Student Engagement demonstrates that students who enroll full-time in community colleges fare better than their part-time counterparts…50 percent of always-full-time students earned an associate degree or certificate. In contrast, only 23 percent of always-part-time students complete their degrees.”

The community college was my employer for 18 years.  I worked for the largest district in the state of Iowa, first as a department chair and administrator, and later when I started homeschooling, as a community college teacher.  Some of you may remember reading in Homeschooling for College Credit, that I was confused by the lack of love for the community college system- it serves a lot of people from all walks of life.  In fact, if you’ve followed our Facebook Group, you know that I have a lot of great things to say about the community college as a system.  That being said…..

The community colleges seem a little out of touch lately with their role in the education industry and seem to be having a bit of an identity crisis.

“Probably for over a decade now, there’s been a lot of conversation about getting more students to complete community college,” says Evelyn Waiwaiole, executive director for the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin. “While attending full-time will be unrealistic for every student, we need to think about why always-part-time students are having a qualitatively different experience and push for changes to be made.”

Here’s what she didn’t say- community college completion rates are somewhere around 8-12% depending on what source you reference. These rates make upper administration lose their minds- and I get it, they want to see higher numbers like those of a 4-year college (about 50-65% which is still pretty low), but what if they’re worried about the wrong thing?  Not everyone uses the community college to earn an Associate of Arts degree!

Community colleges serve a purpose.  They are open enrollment, which is to say that no matter your academic ability, they’ll let you sign up to learn something.  Whether you take courses for credit or personal enrichment, you’re allowed to register.  If you don’t have the required credentials or prerequisite test scores to take certain courses, they’ll provide those too.  Community colleges provide an avenue to earn a GED as well as many quick-employment certificates that can lead to immediate job training.  IN ADDITION, they also award Associate degrees.  

degree

It is my opinion that upper administration has lost sight of their role in our community, and has really started to push for all their students to earn an Associate degree.  Yet, an Associate degree doesn’t always transfer to a 4-year college (depends on your state) and an Associate degree isn’t always an efficient route to a career (ex. Real Estate License requires completing a course, not a degree) and an Associate degree is usually full of general education courses- the very courses students complain about.

The report and summary go on to argue that when students attend full time vs part time, that they’re more likely to complete a degree (this shouldn’t shock anyone) so we should encourage all students to attend full time!  This was the best-dressed marketing effort I’ve read this year.  Of course, colleges want your student to attend full time, of course, they do.  You don’t need an economics lesson from me to tell you why community colleges want to increase their enrollment or why 4-year colleges think you should skip community college and head right to their front door.

EVERYONE is fighting for your student and the dollars they bring. EVERYONE wants enrollment.

So, what does this mean for homeschooling families who want to know where the community college fits into their high school?  I want to point out some reasons that I think the community college is worth your consideration.  This isn’t an apologetics piece, but it’s not a criticism either- it’s simply my thoughts and opinion on how to use the community college in high school and after graduation.


 

For homeschooled high school teens:

  1. DUAL ENROLLMENT.  It’s the community college is the most likely college to allow dual enrollment participation for your teen.  While a few private colleges offer this option, but those programs tend to have competitive admissions or restrictive summer programs.  Community college dual enrollment allows full semester enrollment that awards college credit alongside the high school credit awarded by the parent.
  2. VARIETY:  Dual enrollment through the community college is broader than that of a 4-year college, and includes liberal arts as well as career and trade occupational courses- reflective of the kinds of degree programs offered at the college.
  3.  NON-CREDIT:  The community college closest to you offers a nice catalog of non-credit options.  These are perfectly compatible with homeschooling and can be used as a full curriculum.  Best of all, non-credit options do not require the student to “apply” to the college, rather they simply “register” for the course.  Examples you’ll probably find locally include full sequences of foreign languages, computer programs, and even those that lead to licensure or certifications (property management, real estate, nursing assistant, EMT, and others)  The entrance requirement is usually “age 16” however exceptions can sometimes be made.
  4. TUITION BREAKS:  Some states have community college (or public 4-year college) funding that allows high school students to take courses for free or reduced tuition.  Call your local community college to see if your state has this program.
  5. DISTANCE LEARNING:  Community colleges have really embraced distance learning and a number Homeschooling for College Credit families use community colleges from all over the country.  In other words, you can live in any state and take advantage of the super-low tuition offered through New Mexico’s community college system (about $40/credit).
  6. TESTING CENTER:  If you’re looking for a CLEP or DSST testing center, it’s probably at your community college.  Typically, community colleges have lower proctoring fees than the 4-year colleges.
  7. TRANSFER-FRIENDLY:  Universities in your state almost always all dual enrollment and summer credit earned in high school to transfer to their university.  If they don’t, it’s probably because they don’t accept transfer credit as a general policy, not because of the community college.
  8. PRESERVING FRESHMAN SCHOLARSHIPS:  Credit earned while enrolled in high school almost never counts “against” freshman status, leaving your teen eligible for freshman scholarships.  Typically, the credit earned during high school is applied once the student is already enrolled and sometimes after completion of the first semester.  In other words, they enroll as a freshman, and after 1 semester may be bumped to a sophomore or junior.
  9. HIGHER LEVEL COURSES:  If your teen finishes calculus or French 4 by sophomore year in high school, you’re probably going to have a hard time locating a suitable higher level course.  For those students, it makes sense to enroll in the community college and access no only college credit, but classes at a higher level.

For homeschool graduates:

  1. OPEN ENROLLMENT:  The community college will enroll your homeschool graduate.  The entire “college application process” can be removed from your equation, and your teen can simply register for classes.  In the case of not meeting a certain benchmark for a certain class, the community college will provide a pathway to make it happen.  For instance, if your teen never finished Algebra 1, never took the SAT, and struggles through math, they can still enroll.  There are no essays, interviews, SAT scores, letters of reference, etc.  The college welcomes all students and places them in the level they need, even if the level is lower than “college level.”
  2. TRANSCRIPT ACCEPTANCE:  You can be sure that your homeschool transcript will be accepted at your community college.
  3. LAST MINUTE ENROLLMENT:  Applying a year ahead of enrollment is great if you have a target college in mind, but community colleges allow application and enrollment even through the first week of classes- assuming there is space.
  4. ENTRANCE TESTING:  The majority of community colleges offer their own entrance test at no charge.  This test, taken on your own schedule, is to assess writing, reading, and math level.  There is no way to “fail” this test, though doing well is obviously better for your student.  Students who have taken high school tests like ACT or SAT can sometimes use those in place of entrance testing.
  5. CLEP/AP/DSST AWARDS:  The majority of community colleges award college credit by exam for CLEP, AP, and DSST.  While policies vary, it is unusual that they would award little to nothing (if that’s the case, pick a different community college).
  6. ACCREDITATION:  Community colleges are all regionally accredited, that is the gold standard.  Note that not all 2-year colleges are community colleges and not all 4-year colleges are regionally accredited!
  7. ARTICULATION:  About half of the states have articulation agreements in place, which are formal contractual agreements between the community college and the state’s public colleges.  These agreements guarantee transfer of certificates, diplomas, degrees, or courses.  It’s also worth emphasizing that about half of the states don’t have articulation agreements, but if yours does, this is a huge bonus.
  8. GED / HIGH SCHOOL EQUIVALENCY: If your student wants a GED, prep courses and advisement are available (almost always for free) through your community college. Most community colleges offer the exam as well.  In addition, some of the new high school equivalency exams are worth 10 college credits.
  9. CERTIFICATES:  Unlike a 4-year university, community colleges have “bite-sized” programs that issue certificates or certification after as few as 1 class.  These are usually directed toward job training or a specialization (forklift certification, graphic design, etc.)  Sometimes, the classes inside of a certificate will transfer into a larger diploma or degree at the same college.
  10. TERMINAL DEGREES:  The term “terminal degree” means that the degree has an ending point, in other words, there is not education beyond the terminal degree.  Often, you’ll hear a Ph.D. referred to as a “terminal degree” because there is no degree higher, but at a community college, Associate of Applied Science and Associate of Occupational Studies are also terminal degrees.  These degrees are not intended to transfer to a 4-year college, the degree is the highest training in that industry, and at the completion of the degree, the student enters their career. Besides an AA or AS degree, almost every degree at the community college is a terminal degree.
  11. STUDENT SUPPORT SERVICES:  Unlike 4-year colleges, a community college sees a huge population that needs special support.  Whether it’s simple tutoring or accommodating a diagnosed disability, the community college is excellent at serving this segment of our population.
  12. AGE LIMITS:  Community colleges serve students from age 10-100 and attending classes on campus will likely expose your teen to people of all ages.  While the 4-year colleges serve the traditionally aged student (17-22), it’s not unusual to see a huge age range in any community college classroom.  We have Homeschooling for College Credit families with very young teens taking classes (as young as 12) and as a teacher, I’ve had retired senior citizens in my classes- they were some of my best students!
  13. COST:  Community college is almost always the lowest cost option for traditional college attendance.  The average cost of tuition at a community college is $100 per credit, so an average course (3 credits) will cost you roughly $300 plus books.  While this is a lot more expensive than some of the methods we talk about here (CLEP, AP, DSST, Straighterline, Saylor, etc.) those cost saving methods are alternatives that aren’t good options for everyone.  On your basic English 101 taken on campus with an instructor, your community college is likely to be your most affordable option.  As such, you should know community colleges WANT you to stay local.  They often hike the prices beyond belief when you are out of the district or out of state.  If you can’t attend your local community college, all cost promises are off the table.
  14. PELL GRANTS = FREE TUITION:  A Pell Grant is a financial need-based grant given to eligible students who have filled out the FAFSA financial aid application.  Grants don’t have to be repaid, so if your student qualifies for a Pell Grant, it will absolutely go the farthest at your community college.  Some quick math- a full Pell Grant award in 2017 is $5,575.00  That means, if your teen qualifies and attends college full time, they should receive $5,575.00  If you divide that by the number of credits you’d complete as a full-time student in 1 year (30), you’ll get $185.83.  That means, that your student’s Pell Grant will pay full tuition if your college’s per credit rate is under $185.83!  (know that the average in-state 4-year university charges about $300 per credit, and the average private 4-year university charges about $1100 per credit!)

Referenced:  Center for Community College Student Engagement 2017 National Report