The financial burden of a community college education depends primarily on your state of residency and the number of credit hours you will be taking. Because room and board is not calculated in the cost of attendance, you may also incur bills for housing, meals, and transportation. Luckily, community college students are welcome to apply for financial aid to help offset the costs of education.

Calculating Your Tuition Bill

How does the number of credit hours I take affect my tuition bill?

At many community colleges, tuition is charged by the credit hour; you will not likely pay a fixed fee for the semester. The more credit hours you take, the higher your tuition bill will be. Similarly, the fewer credit hours you take, the lower your bill will be. Both situations have their advantages and disadvantages. If you take a full course load, your tuition bills will be higher, but you will complete the program faster, thereby entering the workforce (and paying off your debt) faster. If you enroll as a part-time student, your tuition bills will be more manageable each semester; you may be able to pay them as you go, which means you could graduate with little to no debt. It will, however, take more time for you to complete your requirements. Weigh your options carefully before making your decision.

It should be noted that if you apply and qualify for financial aid, you will receive a better award if you are enrolled in classes full-time. If you are a part-time student who qualifies for financial aid, your award will be adjusted based on the number of credit hours you are taking. If you fall below half-time enrollment, you will lose out on some sources of aid entirely. Contact the financial aid office at your school if you have specific questions about your enrollment circumstances and subsequent financial aid package.

How does my state residency status affect my tuition bill?

What you pay per credit hour at community colleges is determined by your state or county of residence. Tuition is generally cheaper the closer you live to campus. Some schools may offer discounted in-state tuition rates to all students in the state. Others may offer further discounts if you already reside in the county. Tuition generally increases for students living further away. While students in neighboring states or border counties may receive a small discount, out-of-state students typically pay full price.

Rates at your school depend on its policies, but in-state tuition will always be cheaper than out-of-state tuition. At the Borough of Manhattan Community College, tuition per credit hour for the 2015–16 school year is $210.00 for residents of New York and $320.00 for out-of-state residents. This cost discrepancy is typical. At most community colleges, you can expect tuition per credit hour to be anywhere from $50.00 to over $100.00 more expensive for out-of-state students.

What other costs might I have?

Besides the obvious educational costs of tuition and fees, you may also need to factor in the cost of books, supplies, a parking pass, housing, transit to and from school, and meals. By adding all of these expenses to the cost of tuition and fees, you can calculate the total cost of attendance.

Paying Your Tuition Bill

As a community college student, am I eligible for federal financial aid?

Federal financial aid is often overlooked by community college students, but as long as your institution is accredited, you may (and absolutely should) apply for financial aid. The Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) is free to fill out and takes only about 30 minutes. In return, you can receive grants (free money), work-study, or low-interest loan options from the federal government.

Bear in mind that your FAFSA results assume that you will enroll full-time. If you are a part-time student, you will be offered less financial aid.

Is the federal government the only source of financial aid out there?

The federal government isn’t the only source of financial aid, and you should see if you qualify or can apply for state and institutional financial aid as well. 12% and 13% of community college students received these types of aid respectively in the 2011–12 school year. More recently, in the 2015–16 school year, community college students received an average of $4,200 in grants and tax credits.

Is it true that the federal government is making community college free?

In January 2015, President Obama proposed that two years of community college should be free for all students, made possible by a combination of state and federal funding. This act has not yet passed, but some states have already implemented legislation that achieves this goal.

Minnesota, Oregon, and Tennessee have scholarship programs for students who want to attend community college. Minnesota offers full tuition scholarships to students who are interested in obtaining degrees or certificates in a high demand career area. Oregon waives tuition for residents. Tennessee provides scholarships and mentoring to residents. In the process of passing laws to ensure free community college to residents are many other states: Arizona, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, Washington, and Wisconsin. The National Conference of State Legislatures has an updated article on states with legislation that provides free community college.

How else can I come up with money to apply toward my tuition bill?

Once you know the total cost of attendance and receive your financial aid offer, you may still need to come up with some money to pay your tuition bills. Many students work part-time or full-time while attending college and apply their incomes to their educational costs. If you need additional funding, consider these sources:

Page last updated: 02/2017