In New Jersey, especially, it’s smart to attend a two-year college first

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By Darren Johnson
Campus News

If your end-goal is getting a four-year degree from a public college in your state, how much can you save by getting a two-year associate’s degree first?

The answer varies – a lot. According to a new study listed on the practical advice web site Student Loan Hero, New Jersey ranks No. 1 in the country when comparing the price of its community colleges vs. its public universities.

A student who attends, say, Bergen or Brookdale Community College for two years and then transfers to Rutgers saves nearly $21,000 as compared to a student who had entered Rutgers as a freshman.

However, in New York State, the benefits of attending a two-year college first aren’t as pronounced. While community college prices may vary between the various counties, averaging $4900 (including fees) per year, the SUNY four-year colleges have a fixed price of $8100, when adding in typical fees. So the gap isn’t as much, and thus why New York ranks only 38th as far as transfer benefit goes.

“New Jersey students see substantial savings when opting for community college because the average cost of attending a four-year public college is much higher than it is for other states,” according to Student Loan Hero’s Elyssa Kirkham. “New York ranks No. 38 on our list. However, it is important to take into account that the cost of tuition at a public four-year school is less expensive in New York than it is in New Jersey.”

The larger question may be, considering Rutgers is so much pricier than SUNY, if New Jersey residents would be better off crossing the border into New York when transferring? The out-of-state SUNY rate is about $18,000, factoring in tuition and fees, while Rutgers for New Jersey residents is $14,200. Both have room and board costs that tack on about $12,000. Overall, not a major difference for Garden Staters.

How did other states in our region do on Student Loan Hero’s list? Connecticut placed No. 11 in transfer benefit, with students who did their first two years at a community college saving $15,700 vs. those who went straight to public four-year schools as freshmen. Massachusetts came in at No. 28, with about $10,000 in savings.

The states that ranked last, North Dakota, Nevada, Florida and Kansas, had community colleges that cost about the same per year as their four-year counterparts, so there is little financial incentive to attend a two-year college first in those states.

Though, as with any such choice, it’s sometimes better to attend a two-year college first for a variety of reasons, such as proximity to one’s home, saving on room and board, or to shore up one’s academic record – and garnering credit – before heading to a big four-year college.

“Spending your first two years of college at a community college is a great plan for many students,” Kirkham added. “When deciding on which community college, it is helpful to enroll in a community college that has a partnership with a major four-year college. Many schools have agreements with four-year schools that guarantee the university will accept your community college credits. Also, many community colleges offer classes that complement working a full-time job, so students can work during the day and take classes at night to further reduce the cost of their educations.”

So going to a community college for the first 60 credits may not only be a frugal choice, but also the right choice for many, regardless.

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