What if My Wife & I Went to Community College First?

If you are reading this article you probably are asking yourself this question, “Should I go to community college first?”

Or, maybe you went to college already and you are looking to see what a family member/friend who is about to go into college should do!

Either way, this article offers a different perspective on the conventional, “Go to school, get good grades, work really hard to be successful,” advice most young adults heard in high school.

So whether you are kicking the idea around to try your hand at community college or maybe you are just doing some research to see if the price of admission for college is worth it, by the end of this article I hope to help you find what you are looking for.

Note: This is the second blog post I ever wrote, so truth be told it is a little “Raw.” Just a little. If you are new to MLW, check out our story here.

Should I go to community college?

After dealing with paying off over $200,000 in student loans over the past four years my initial answer as to whether you should go to community college is overwhelmingly…

YES! You should.

Without knowing someone's exact situation, in most cases community, college is the best bet for most young adults.

Sure, there are those who earn scholarships to four-year schools, join ROTC programs, and use other financial resources that make a 4-year degree affordable. However, for many, college has become way too expensive.

However, simply going to a community college for two years then transferring can eliminate up to 50% of student loans.

Student Loan Issues

Here is what I do know about college in general:

  1. In 2016 the average college graduate had roughly $36,000 in student loan debt. An individual with that sort of college debt is looking at about $300-$350 payments for the next years and somewhere in the neighborhood of roughly $10-15,000 in interest. So if going to community college for two years allows you to save even a 1/3 of that, you are in a much better position come post-graduation time. 
  2. The average Bachelor's degree now takes 5 years not 4. So if you are basing your college tuition costs off of 4-year figures… well, think again. Chances are if you decide to change your major or you forget to take a class, you could be going for longer. Which leads to #3…
  3. Most times an 18-year-olds are not ready to declare a major… they're 18. Asking an 18-year-old who just graduated high school and was still forgetting to bring a pencil to class to all of a sudden choose a “Major,” aka career path, for the rest of their life is about as stupid as it comes. Sure some can do it, but for the most part, 18-year-old kids are not in a position in life to make that kind of decision. 

So while those three points address a little bit of the debate between community college and a four-year degree, I want to share the numbers I ran and compared had my wife went to community college instead of getting her doctorate.

Note: This is not a jab saying my wife doesn't deserve her education, we are very grateful and she earned it! This is an article that offers a perspective for those considering going to community college instead of taking out thousands in student loans. (In case you were wondering, this was just my rough calculations and my wife loves being a Physical Therapist, so this is all hypothetical).

Should you get an Associates, Bachelor's, or Doctorate?

Sometimes my wife and I wonder what it would be like had she just gone to Community College.

After paying off $160,000 in student loans over the past 2.5 years it has actually become a common question, but we are not the only people asking it.

Student loan debt has reached an astronomical 1.6 trillion dollar deficit, with 72% of graduates having some sort of college debt.

The rising costs don't appear to be stopping anytime soon, in fact, college tuition continues to rise. Pair the rising costs with the conventional wisdom that says to our younger generations that the golden ticket is to graduate from college and you can sometimes have a recipe for lots of student loan debt.

However, both my wife and I followed this conventional wisdom, which meant we took out student loan debt. So I decided to see what the financial breakdown would have been like had my wife just gone to community college.

Related: Where does college tuition go?

College costs too much

First, I am not a hater of college, I have two degrees in education and only had about $40,000 in loans to work off (I do find it funny I say only). While I find the value in a college degree, a larger problem lies in the belief that our younger generations should excessively take out student loans without any seconding guessing just to pursue “Their passion.”

Please… at 18 my passion was video games, fast food, and instant messaging girls.

Secondly, does it REALLY make sense to go to school for five years out of state to get a teaching degree and take out a $130,000 in loans to do so? Or did you really need the 5th edition of the biology book that cost $368 at the bookstore, (After interest $650), or could the school just let you use the 4th edition?

All this leads me to say:

Research College Funding!

With the costs of college tuition rising daily, it is vital that we slow down and think before jumping into boatloads of student loan debt.  College doesn't have to cost a fortune. Just doing a little research and calculating costs vs return is vital. To prove my point, let’s just take my wife’s case for example. Had she not gone to college for 8 years and pursued her doctorate what could have happened?

Hypothetical Associates Degree:

Instead of a Doctorate in Physical Therapy, what if my wife pursued an associate's to become a registered nurse.  As a community college student, she could have lived at home, worked full or part-time, and completed her studies at night.

Based on a conservative starting salary for a nurse and the costs of a community college now (In 2006 it was significantly less) I compared her fictional nursing degree to her actual path:

Student Loan Debt comparison
Cost Break Down:

These numbers and figures are my wife's student loan situation (On the right) as of 2015. On the left the “What if community college” game.  As you can see at age 26, had she pursued the nursing path, with a 2-3% annual raise she could have earned approximately 283,000 when you factor out the cost of community college?

Even scarier, most of her loans are actually in between 7-8% interest. An interest rate of 7% on a principal balance that high makes paying down debt REALLY challenging. After graduation, she had to settle for income-based repayment, which didn't cover the monthly interest.

In fact, in March of 2017 when her loans capitalized, the principal increased $11,000 for the graduate loans and $6,000 for the undergrad loans.

A total increase of $17,000 just from the interest! This is why we actually started using a HELOC to make one-time $40,000 student loan payments.


Community college for the win.

All hypothetical yes, but just google the median salary of an RN and you will quickly learn that in 2016 it was about 65,000. I used very conservative numbers to illustrate my point in the table above.

Had Lauren simply went the nursing route, practiced part-time while she was in community college, and at age 20 started practicing full time she could have earned approximately $283,000 during the time she spent in “real” college.  In addition to the earnings as a nurse, combined with the debt she took out to be a DPT it was essentially a $648,000 swing.

(You have to factor not only student loans but 4-5 years of not earning money when assessing college – Read my 5 rules about money here). 

Like a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown in football, instead of going up 3-0 all of a sudden you're down 7. Based off these rough figures, after 30 years of making at least $21,000 more as a Physical Therapist my wife will finally break even.

Unless… we pay off her loans as fast as possible.

Q: Should you go to community college first? Answer below!