How Cheap Are Community Colleges, Really?

Community colleges are maybe a little pricier than we realize. Or maybe they’re not. According to a piece by Eric Kelderman in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

A new study, by a former community-college administrator…Richard M. Romano, examined federal data compiled by the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education, Costs, Productivity, and Accountability, and it found that the median cost of educating a full-time student at a two-year college was $9,291—nearly $2,300 more than what the estimated median cost would be for a freshman or a sophomore at a master’s-level public institution.

Why is this? Well it’s a little hard to tell so far but it’s too early to say that community colleges are actually too expensive or someone’s wasting money.

A lot of this has to do with economies of scale. Full-time students in the beginning of their educations at four-year colleges often spend most of their time in huge lecture classes, which cost very little to administer. If there’s only one teacher but he’s lecturing 400 students, that’s pretty cheap. Community colleges are smaller, that’s part of what may make them cost more, there are simply less students per teacher.

Notice that the study didn’t look at college students as a whole, only freshmen and sophomores. Juniors and seniors tend to take smaller classes, which increases the cost of their education.

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer