How to save a lot of money on your bachelor’s degree (consider community college first) – Part 3 of a 4 part series

Continuing my short series on the role of community college in education, I wanted to address an area that many may not consider: That community colleges in Colorado can give you the same first two years of education you would get at a four year college, but at a much lower cost – 1/3 or less.

The Colorado Department of Higher Education has aligned the first two years of many classes across all public higher ed institutions in the state.  What does this mean for a student?  It means that if a student takes (example) “English 101” at any higher ed institution, it is the same class and if it’s a part of the Guaranteed Transfer Pathways, it will be accepted by any public higher ed institution as a transfer credit.

What this means for the student is that there is a very cost effective way to get their first two years of education through community college, even if their intention is to get a bachelor’s degree from a four year college.  In fact, about 15% of the students currently in community colleges in Colorado are on a path to complete a Bachelor’s degree from a four year college.

How does this work?  It’s too complex to fully explain in one blog post, but I will provide links to additional resources below.  At a high level, there are multiple approaches to guaranteed transfer credits.

  • Degrees with Designation.  There are ~30 areas of study in which the CDHE and all public higher ed institutions in Colorado have agreed that the credits will transfer (assuming acceptable grades and acceptance to the four year college).  A student may study in these areas, graduate from community college after 60 credit hours with an Associate’s degree, and then transfer to a four year college.  The four year college will accept the 60 credit hours, and after successful completion of 60 more, the student can graduate in a total of four years with a Bachelor’s degree from the four year college.  It is the exact same degree as if they had started there (there is no asterisk by it), but with much less cost invested in the first two years.
  • Transfer Agreements: Each four year college may also have additional transfer agreements and guidelines.  These will be in addition to the Degrees with Designation.  They specify additional credit transfer opportunities, usually based on the area of study.  This is particularly prevalent for engineering degrees.

Here are two links to good resources from the CDHE which go into much more depth than the above:

  • Overview of transfer pathways on the CDHE website.  Short of speaking with an Academic Adviser at a school, this is the place to start for all the detail on how transfers work.
  • One page overview guide to transfer pathways.  This is a brief overview of the transfer pathways.

The cost of community college can be 1/3 or less than that of a traditional four year college.  The Georgia Institute of Technology recently published a blog post on “how to pay for college“.  Their fourth item was attending community college first.

Given the ability to have guaranteed transfers of credits, why wouldn’t someone consider community college as a viable option for the first two years?  It’s not for everyone, but it certainly fits a key role for many who may otherwise not be able to afford a four year college straight out of high school.  In the end, this allows many more Colorado students access to a four year degree.


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