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Community College Costs and Financial Aid

Community College Costs and Financial Aid

In 2018–19, the average published tuition and fees for a full-time student at public two-year institutions nationally was $3,660, compared with $10,230 at public four-year colleges. The average net price, however, was -$400, meaning that grants and tax benefits covered tuition and fees plus a portion of other expenses for the average full-time community college student.

While sticker prices at community colleges have increased over the past decade (from $2,730 in 2008–09, adjusted to 2018 dollars), net prices at community colleges are lower than they were 10 years ago.

According to the 2015–16 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, after accounting for grants (but not tax credits), 44 percent of full-time community college students pay no tuition or receive money to cover other expenses. About 14 percent pay something but less than $1,100, and about 14 percent pay more than $3,400 after accounting for grants.

Community colleges have the lowest FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) application rate of any sector at 60 percent. Public four-year institutions have the next lowest FAFSA application rate at 73 percent.

The rate of Pell receipt for community college students has fallen in recent years from 38 percent in 2011–12 to 33.5 percent in 2015–16. Even though community colleges have a much higher proportion of low-income students than other higher education sectors, their students' rate of Pell receipt is lower than at public four-year colleges and at private nonprofit four-year colleges.

About 23 percent of dependent community college students and 47 percent of independent community college students have family incomes of less than $20,000. About 80 percent of community college students work, with 39 percent working full-time. Yet only 2 percent of community college students receive any Federal Work Study aid, compared with 14 percent of undergraduates at private nonprofit four-year colleges.

Sampled in 2015–16, 36 percent of all community college students had taken out at least some loans, similar to the percentage in 2011–12 but up from 30 percent in 2007–08. Twenty-four percent had borrowed less than $13,500, and 12 percent 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 percent of students at public four-year institutions and 82 percent of students at for-profits borrowed.

Among students who graduated with an associate degree from a public two-year college in 2015–16, 59 percent took no student loans, 30 percent had less than $20,000 in loans, and around 13 percent had more than $20,000 in loans. A smaller percentage of community college graduates took out loans than four-year graduates or for-profit graduates.

Nonetheless, community college borrowers have lower repayment rates than public and private nonprofit university borrowers. Sixty-eight percent of community college graduates who entered repayment in 2009–10 and 2010–11 paid down at least a dollar of loan principal after five years. Only 39 percent of noncompleters had started paying their principal. Around 80 percent of public and private nonprofit four-year graduates had started paying their loan principal. While about 26 percent of community college borrowers default within 12 years of entering college, only 13 percent 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.

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CAPSEE's By the Numbers Series


Visit CAPSEE's website for a graphical introduction to for-profit colleges, financial aid, and college graduate earnings.