THE BLOG

The #1 Way to Lower the Cost of College

06/05/2015 04:44 pm ET | Updated Jun 05, 2016

Let's face it: The cost of college has become prohibitive for many Americans. Even the state schools have run up their tuition as they face state budget crunches. So how about going to a two-year community college? They can be a great way to start your education on the cheap.

First off though, there's been a lot of negative press about the value of a college degree. Yet the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco says college grads earn $800,000 more over a lifetime than someone who doesn't have a college degree.

Yes, you can be very successful without a college degree. For some people, college is just not their thing. They don't like academics or they have a different vision for their life from an early age. That's all well and good.

But most people though, the dividing line for creating a good income in life is college.

Community colleges are the way to begin your education

According to numbers I've seen, the cost of a community college is one-tenth to one-twentieth that of a private college on average. Of course, that varies widely from school to school.

Let's say you decide to do your first two years at a community college, and then transfer to a "name" school to complete your degree. People often worry about the lack of prestige associated with the community college. However, most employers look only at the name of the traditional college that issues your degree after you've put in your time at a community school.

In fact, I believe an employer might even prefer someone who worked their way through a community college and had to struggle financially. Doesn't that make for a more compelling candidate than somebody who cruised through a four-year college on the silver spoon plan?

Historically, community colleges only offered two-year associate degrees. But 17 states now allow their community colleges to offer four-year bachelor degrees, according to the Comprehensive College Baccalaureate Association. Florida leads the way with more than a dozen community colleges offering the degree.

So if you're contemplating borrowing yourself into oblivion to pay for school, perhaps the alternative is two or even four affordable years of college at a community school.

Directional schools offer another route

State schools have traditionally gotten roughly 50% of their money from the state and the other 50% from students and parents. But through the last several years of financial difficulty, many states have shrunk the amount of tax money that supports state universities. It's not uncommon for the state's contribution to be 25% of overall operating costs, not 50% any longer. So there's a heavier burden on student shoulders.

In many states, you have a flagship state university and then there are the 'directional schools.' The latter is simply any school with a description of where it is geographically located in the name, like Central Michigan University where I got my master's degree. These kinds of schools tend to devote more of their money to classroom teaching, rather than to faculty research. They have higher efficiency and lower tuition.

So if you look at a directional school, you may save a substantial amount of money on education.

For more money-saving tips, visit ClarkHoward.com. Money in Your Pocket. Advice You Can Trust.