Teachers College, Columbia University

Community College Costs and Financial Aid

Community College Costs and Financial Aid

In 2021-22, the average published tuition and fees for a full-time student at public two-year institutions nationally was $3,800, compared with $10,740 at public four-year colleges. After grant aid, students had an average of $660 left for other expenses, well short of the cost of attendance.

According to a CCRC analysis of federal data from 2018, after accounting for grants, 41% of full-time public two-year college students pay no tuition or receive money to cover other expenses. About 12% pay something but less than $1,000 and 21% pay between $1,000 and $2,500. About 26% pay $2,500 or more after accounting for grants.

Public two-year colleges had the lowest FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) application rate of any sector at 59%, according to a CCRC analysis of federal data from 2018. Public four-year institutions had the next lowest FAFSA application rate at 68%.

The percentage of public two-year college students who receive Pell Grants grew from 33.5% in 2015-16 to 42% in 2017-18, pushing the rate above that of public and private four-year colleges. 

About 23% of dependent community college students and 47% of independent community college students have family incomes of less than $20,000 (See enrollment by income question above). Two-thirds of public two-year college students work, with 32% working full-time. Yet only 2% of public two-year college students receive any work study aid, compared with 20% of undergraduates at private nonprofit four-year colleges.

In 2017-18, 15% of public two-year college students took out student loans, compared with 43% of public four-year college students.

Sampled in 2015–16, 36% of all public two-year college students had taken out loans during their undergraduate studies, similar to the percentage in 2011–12 but up from 30% in 2007–08, according to a CCRC analysis of federal data. Twenty-four percent had borrowed less than $13,500, and 12% had borrowed more than $13,500. Both the rate of borrowing and the amount borrowed are far lower than in other sectors. For example, 60% of students at public four-year institutions and 82% of students at for-profits borrowed.

While about 26% of community college borrowers default within 12 years of entering college, only 13% of community college entrants default because of the much smaller fraction of borrowers at community colleges.

CCRC data viz

CCRC's data visualizations offer an interactive way to explore trends in community college outcomes.

View all CCRC #dataviz blog posts