The challenge of funding a community college education

Students studying in Berlin.

Federal student loans -- widely regarded as the safest form of education financing because of their low, fixed interest rates and flexible repayment plans -- are out of reach for one million community college students nationwide. That’s according to a new report from The Institute for College Access & Success.

The report says that while community colleges are generally a low-cost way to get a degree or certificate, students can still face roughly $15,000 in annual costs, with tuition and living expenses combined.

The majority of community colleges do offer federal student loan programs. But the report cites big regional differences, with 250,000 students shut out from the programs in California alone.

David Baime with the American Association of Community Colleges doubts the situation needs to change, noting that only 17 percent of community college students take out loans.

Plus, Baime says some schools might be reluctant to offer the loan programs because they fear defaults. High student loan default rates could hurt a college’s ability to secure other forms of federal aid, such as Pell Grants.


The numbers behind a community college education

1 MILLION

The number of community college students nationwide who lack access to federal student loans.

64 PERCENT

The number of African-American community college students lacking access to federal student loans in Alabama, compared to 35 percent of their white peers.

$3,300

The average tuition and fees for a full-time, full-year community college student, as estimated by the American Association of Community Colleges.

$15,000

The full cost of one year of attendance at a community college, including tuition, fees, books and supplies, living expenses and transportation, as estimated by The Institute for College Access & Success.

1 IN 5

The number of community college students defaulting on loans within three years of beginning their repayment, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.

17 PERCENT

The share of community college students who take out loans, according to both groups cited above.

About the author

Annie Baxter is a reporter for Minnesota Public Radio.

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