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Recent FCHS graduate Acacia Rodgers. Photo by Krista C. PetzoldIn today’s day and age nearly every job requires some type of education after high school. Most people believe that this means going to a four-year college or university and earning a bachelor’s degree. But with the rapidly-rising cost of higher education, more and more high school seniors are worried about how to pay for it. Loans, scholarships, and grants are an option that can be life-savers to a college student on a tight budget.
But there is another surprising option to consider: getting an associate’s degree. For some fields, a two-year associate’s degree is becoming more popular in the work place.
“I think that [community colleges] have a lot of good to offer between the programs they have for college students or just someone wanting to learn something, as well as the ability they offer to transfer a student into another state school. In general, I think community college is a good start,” said FCHS senior Jenna Nemeth.
For many students who cannot afford a four-year college or university, community colleges can be the answer they are looking for. Many FCHS students plan to attend Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC). PVCC offers a two-year program where you can earn your associate’s degree in one of over 40 programs of study, for only a fraction of the cost of a university.
According to the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia, here are the costs for a full-time student for the 2012-13 year at select Virginia colleges:
• PVCC - $3735
• Longwood University - $10,890 (plus $8448 for room & board)
• University of Virginia - $12,006 (plus $9419 for room & board)
• Virginia Tech – $10,923 (plus $7254 for room & board)
• James Madison University – $8,808 (plus $8,630 for room & board)
• Radford University - $8,590 (plus $7881 for room & board)
Jake Davis, a freshman at PVCC, believes that the school is extremely affordable for the average student. “The cost is very reasonable. Normally you can get a full semester of credits [at PVCC] for approximately $2,000. However if you worked hard in high school, and apply for financial aid, most of the time it is completely free and not one penny of your own leaves your pocket. The same cannot be said about a vast majority of universities,” Davis said.
FCHS senior Jessica Horn, who plans to attend PVCC in the fall, is excited for the cheaper college experience. “I think they are a good way for people to start in on the college process and a good way for students to work and save up some money while going to college,” Horn said. Horn also added that saving money is only one of the benefits to attending PVCC and other community colleges. “It’s not for everyone, but community colleges help you decide if [a field] is for you or not. It also saves money and works with you and your schedule. So a community college is a better choice in my opinion,” Horn said.
PVCC also offers work-study programs for financial aid. Many on-campus jobs pay $9 an hour for 10-20 hours of work a week.
Can someone with an associate’s degree compete with someone with a bachelor’s degree? While it depends on one’s major, some graduates with associate’s degrees can earn up to $52,000 a year, which compares favorably with the average salary for someone with a bachelor’s degree ($51,000). According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, nearly 30% of Americans with associate’s degrees now make more than those with bachelor’s degrees. Plus, since they are likely to have much less in the way of student loans, associate’s degree holders may be more likely to keep more of their hard-won income.
Even if your long-term goal is a four-year degree, you can always start out at PVCC and earn your associate’s, then transfer to a four-year school for the remaining two years. With the economy still in a shaky state, and people trying to save money any way they can, PVCC may look like an increasingly smart investment for local graduates.