community college vs university pros and consGraduation season is quickly approaching. Many seniors are making decisions about what to do after the cap and gown – with so many options, how do you help your student navigate his or her next steps? You may be choosing between community college and a four-year university.

5 Reasons Community College is Your Best Bet

As it turns out, a four-year degree isn’t the only path to fulfilling, high-paying careers. Gone are the days when community college was considered an academic consolation prize – two-year schools have a host of benefits you should consider when making your choice.

Career Focused

Not all careers require a bachelor’s degree; in fact, many high-paying jobs require only a two-year degree. Consider this: According to Forbes, the average growth rate of all jobs by 2020 is just 14 percent, while the high-growth jobs requiring an associate’s degree will grow by an average of 35 percent. Some of the most-high paying jobs, including air traffic controllers, construction managers and radiation therapists, only require a two year degree.

Stackable Credentials

When people graduate with an associate degree (the most common degree from a community college), they likely have a host of credentials and certifications. Because community colleges are laser-focused on making students career ready, they offer nationally recognized certifications. These certifications vary by field, but are recognized throughout the industry they support. In order to achieve these credentials, students have demonstrated their knowledge and proficiency, so they turn into great resume builders when students look for jobs after they graduate. Examples of industry-recognized certifications students can earn at a community college include:

  • MSSC – Certifies manufacturing skills
  • MCSE – Certifies knowledge of Microsoft products and software engineering principles
  • NAAEI – Certifies knowledge of real estate principles

Smaller Class Sizes, Personal Attention

When you think of college lecture halls, you likely envision a classroom with stadium seating for 200 students. This isn’t the case in many community colleges where class sizes are intentionally kept small, and often focus on hands-on instruction. Instructors are often subject matter experts in their field, and can add a real-world component to classes. Many students find academic success with this hands-on approach to learning, and excel with more one-on-one attention.

Smart Financial Investment

Community colleges focus on giving students a strong return on investment. What does that mean? While college tuition is soaring, many people are re-thinking educational spending. Students find that they can complete a two-year degree for a fraction of the cost of a four year degree, and often have their student loans paid for by the time their counterparts graduate with their bachelor’s degrees. According to Forbes, “lower tuition rates coupled with high median earnings on the job means these graduates pay off their tuition in just two years, on average.”

Builds Foundation

Many people choose a community college because they are focused on their career goals and can bridge high school and the start of a career much quicker. However, many students also opt to continue working towards a bachelor degree. These students find that they have already completed many of the initial graduation requirements – at a much more affordable rate than if they had completed all requirements at a four-year school.

3 Reasons a Bachelor’s Degree Makes Sense

With student loan debt on the rise, some people question the value of a college degree. However, the lessons students learn both in and out of the classroom make a four-year degree worth the investment.

Soft Skills

Some of the most sought-after skills are mastered while students work to achieve their bachelor’s degrees. According to Entrepreneur, skills like communication, writing, research, collaboration and leadership are developed in a university environment. Mastering these skills – regardless of major courses – will help a student succeed long after graduation.

Career Prerequisite

Many careers – including many STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) positions – require a bachelor’s degree. In fact, seven of the top 10 careers with the highest earning potential are engineering positions that require a bachelor’s degree. Outside of the STEM disciplines, people find that in order to manage people and climb the corporate ladder, a bachelor’s degree is not only beneficial – it’s an application requirement.

Long-Term Earning Potential

Though attitudes are shifting, the long-term earning potential is still stronger for people with bachelor’s degrees. College graduates earn far more over a lifetime than their counterparts with only a high school diploma, or even their counterparts with an associate’s degree. According to USA Today, “the main reason: Average wages also have declined for workers with no college degree. The gap between wages for college graduates and those without a college degree remains near all-time highs.”

Learn more: 6 College Savings Dos and Don’ts

The bottom line? Only you (and your student) can choose the right path for your unique situation. Before deciding on a course of action, consider long-term career goals, occupational outlooks, and regional guides. Encourage students to job shadow and learn about their career interests long before considering college or career options. Talk to your Farm Bureau agent about smart ways to save for college – because preparation is always a wise investment.