Are Community Colleges That Offer Four-Year Degrees Worth it?

Ananth Prabhu, Health & Sports Editor

Community college is often considered a budget-friendly place to transfer general education credentials to university or a nifty applied associate’s degree in the trades. However, this mentality has changed over recent years. Once students finish their associate’s degrees and establish comfort and reliability with that community college location, they may wish to continue their matriculation and thus pursue a higher degree at the same place. As of now, it is entirely possible to earn a bachelor’s degree or even a master’s degree without ever actually setting foot in a university.


Both William Rainey Harper College in Palatine, Illinois and College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois have a University Center for students to take university courses directly from the corresponding community college campus. Each community college is affiliated with local and statewide university systems to allow greater accessibility to university-level coursework.


The partner universities for College of Lake County include NEIU, Concordia University Chicago, Northern Illinois University, DePaul University, Southern Illinois University – Carbondale and Edwardsville – Dominican University, the University of Illinois – Springfield and at Urbana-Champaign – National Louis University, North Park University and Webster University.  The partner universities for Harper College include DePaul University, Northern Illinois University, Roosevelt University and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.  The beauty of this University Center system is that the bachelor’s and master’s degrees are from the corresponding university, but the location is at the student’s familiar community college location.


For those high school graduates who did not receive guaranteed scholarships and grants to attend a university as freshmen, community colleges offer all the resources and lower cost of attendance that they may be seeking. According to Harper College Registration and Records, one 3-credit hour course would cost $400.50.  According to NEIU’s Registration and Records, one 3-credit hour course would cost $1,350.87.  It costs more than three times as much for a single 3-credit hour course at a state university! That is outrageous when considering general education course requirements, such as introduction to college writing, psychology, sociology, lab sciences, algebra, and other 100 and 200- level courses that freshmen and sophomore students typically take.


When high school graduates attend university straight away, they really will not have anything to show for their hard work after two years, but at a community college, they would have an associate’s degree. There are employers who specifically look for potential employees with college-level critical thinking skills without the need for a four-year degree.  Thus, attending a two-year college, then a four-year university, and finally a graduate school allows students to seek jobs with pay raises and job promotions along the way. To reiterate, 60 credits would be earned at the community college, another 60 credits at the university and finally between 30 to 50 credits at the graduate school, and each institution of higher education would only take two years for full-time status students to complete.


I have not even gotten into the details of housing at universities yet. By continuing at a community college, it is entirely possible for students to continue living at their parents’ homes after high school and save an incredible amount of money. Saving money often feels thrilling and gives enjoyment to me because I can spend those savings in more meaningful ways. Renting a home in Illinois can easily cost between $600 to $2,000 based on size and location. That is $7,200 to $24,000 per year plus the cost of the one-month security deposit, which you may or may not get back at the end of the lease. The dorms at NEIU, called The Nest, may be more cost-efficient, however, you may be displeased with the service you get. According to The Nest’s primary financial stakeholder,, a single semester costs $774 per person. According to the floor plans, all units have a shared living room, shared bathroom and shared kitchen, but there seems to be two tiers of bedrooms where residents would share a bedroom versus getting an unshared bedroom.


According to a recent and former NEIU Independent editor, and Nest resident, Mariana Silva Lindner, the Nest had relentless and blaring fire drill alarms every so often, sewage backup in showers and toilets, bathroom floodings, cockroach infestations, insect infestations, filth from former tenants, mildew, unkempt furniture, broken mirrors, under-maintained partial light-filtering window treatments and a one-week turnaround time for action to customer service maintenance requests. I suppose the money that is saved by not renting an actual apartment is the compromise for all of The Nest’s issues. I think it may be best to attend a community college, do a daily commute and avoid the unsuspecting nightmare of dorm life.


When it comes to saving money, working with a familiar campus and having the convenience of living at home, it looks like a worthwhile pursuit to earn a bachelor’s degree from a community college campus. As long as the students’ desired majors and career paths are available via community college’s University Centers, it should definitely be a beneficial consideration for all students to pursue. Sometimes, a dorm life and apartment life are an extra hassle to deal with if there is a way to avoid it. To top it off, community colleges tend to have more course offerings for each general education course throughout the daytime, afternoon, evening and online. Furthermore, there are usually more summer classes offered at community colleges as well, and as such, many university students transfer to a community college over the summer to wrap up additional general education course requirements. Thus, the flexibility, accessibility, cost and convenience factors are some of the best reasons to start and finish academia at a community college. My verdict is that earning a four-year degree at a community college is totally worth it for students to consider. If universities desire increasing their enrollment and retention rates, then it may be in their best interests to promote a corresponding partnered University Center at a community college.