When Rich Johnston started college in the 1970s, four years at a standard university was out of the question financially. So he worked, knocked off two years of community college credits in 19 months and then worked some more.
He ended up graduating in 1981 from the University of Puget Sound, a private college in Tacoma, Wash. “Nobody ever asked where I went the first two years, and I don’t think anybody cares,” he said. “And I bet I saved myself $30,000.”
When it came time for his son Bret to start college, Bret decided to take the same path, choosing smaller classes, a more flexible schedule and a price that was a fraction of what he might have paid in Washington’s state university system.
He is hardly the only one. A few weeks ago, in a “Your Money” special section of the newspaper, I wrote about Mino Caulton, a high school senior in Shutesbury, Mass., who was weighing the virtues of a community college versus a more prestigious private university that would have required him to take out lots of student loans.
Advice for Mr. Caulton poured in on our Bucks blog, and it became clear that there were few centralized resources for families who had made a strategic financial decision to attend community college first as a cost-saving measure.
Merely deciding to attend community college does not guarantee that you will save money. If the goal is to earn a bachelor’s degree in four years, anything that goes wrong along the way, like taking the wrong classes or getting a bad grade in a required class, means extra semesters and extra expenses.
So what follows are a list of six of the most important things you need to think about if you’re trying to save money in this way. Please add your tips to our discussion on Bucks over the weekend.