Pushing students into community colleges for the first two years of college is often touted as a major way to reduce education costs. However, community colleges really aren’t that cheap.
Community colleges have lower total costs than public regional colleges because they do less research and public service, and provide fewer student services. Instruction costs are slightly lower, but community colleges are only providing lower division courses whereas the public regional also provides more expensive upper division and master’s level courses. In fact, instruction costs for lower division students may be higher at the community college than at the public regional college or the public research university.
The average community college cost per student of $10,985 compares with $6,705 and $9,204 for the hypothetical four-year colleges (CELS) Vance Fried created as part of his study, Opportunities for Efficiency and Innovation: A Primer on How to Cut College Costs. However, real life public regional colleges average $14,703, so for now community colleges still look like a good deal.
Fried’s numbers look good on paper, but if some philanthropist (Bill Gates?) would fund his hypothetical college we’d learn if it can really be done.