Community Colleges in the U.S.A.

What are community colleges?

Community colleges are publicly supported institutions that offer study opportunities to a wider range of students than four-year colleges such as universities. They are sometimes called ‘two-year’ colleges because they offer ‘Associates’ degrees which are degrees taken over a two year period. Many students who take these degrees go on to a US university to complete a further two years study and gain a Bachelors degree. This is a cheaper way of completing a Bachelors and there are usually fewer entrance requirements for community colleges, making it easier to get started. In addition, community colleges offer a wide range of courses, including English language, remedial and vocational courses. They tend to have a wider ethnic mix and higher adult intake than the US universities, and are locally oriented so that people can attend without moving away from their hometowns.

Some Statistics

  • There are over 1170 community colleges, of which over 90% are public.
  • Enrolment to community colleges is over ten million, making up 44% of all U.S. undergraduates.
  • More than 450,000 associate degrees and almost 200,000 two-year certificates were awarded by community colleges.
  • More than half of all first-time college freshmen attend community colleges.
  • Nearly 50 percent of community college students work full time

The Costs and the Savings

The average for annual tuition fees at a community college is $1,518 and it is estimated that if you attend public institutions for all four years of your bachelors, you will save around $3,400 by going to a community college for the first two.

Most of the community colleges do not provide on-campus accommodation as they were conceived with the idea of providing a local higher education facility. If you are a student calculating the total costs of studying and living in the U.S., please refer to the costs section of our United States Country page. The community colleges currently offering on-campus accommodation are: Columbia, Kings River, Lassen, Redwoods, Santa Rosa, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyous, Taft, West Hills, and Yuba. Advice and help with finding outside accommodation is usually available from the college itself.

Transferring from Community College to Four-Year College

The community college is an excellent starting point for higher education, giving you the option of studying for an associate degree over two years and then entering the job market, or going on afterwards to complete a Bachelors at another institution or US university (although some community colleges are now offering the opportunity to study a Bachelors). There are additional opportunities to study courses outside the degree syllabus: for foreign students this may include English language study. Clearly, if you plan to move on to a four-year college after completing your associate degree, you will need to ensure that the qualifications you have completed are recognised and acceptable for entry into the place you have chosen. All institutions have guidance counsellors who will develop an academic plan to ensure that the transition is smooth, and you will find that ‘articulation agreements’ frequently exist between community colleges and the four-year colleges that operate nearest to them ­ these agreements mean that your study credits will transfer, and many community colleges even offer written ‘transfer-guarantee programs’ to specific universities. The transfer centre or counselling office can advise you and you can also check the catalogue of the four-year college to make sure it will accept the credits you plan to study for at the community college.

Finally, it is worth noting that students who take this route to completing a Bachelors degree have been found to do at least as well as (and in many cases, better than) those students who do the entire four years at a single institution.

Other Issues

Working while at community colleges ­ a large number of students work (over 80%), many of them full time outside college and others on the work-study programs offered by the colleges themselves. The amount you are permitted to work will depend on your visa limitations and any restrictions that the college itself may impose.

Foreign students are usually able to apply to community colleges on the same basis that U.S. students from outside the state can apply. Obviously, it will be necessary to obtain a visa in order to go and study in the U.S. (See our visa information page).

Further Information

The community college network is represented by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). Their website contains links to the colleges themselves and further information on all aspects of this branch of the U.S. education system. Go to



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