The Smartest Students in America Go to ... Community Colleges?

Community College: The Smartest Bet in Higher Education
Community College: The Smartest Bet in Higher Education

Ask anyone you know where the smartest people in America go to college.

Chances are you'll get all the same answers: Harvard, MIT, Yale, etc.

But I don't think that's true. If you ask me, the smartest people go to community colleges: What's smarter than saving $100,000 and managing to get an education that is just as good, and perhaps even better, than you can get at many top universities?

First, the cost side: Tuition and fees at the average community college run $2,544 -- and for most families, a tax credit will cover most of that amount, making the cost of attending a community college negligible. By comparison, four-year private colleges charge an average of $26,273 a year in tuition and fees. Then, factor in the significant savings that come from living at home while attending a community college for the first two years of a bachelor's degree.

But what about the quality of education? As Marty Nemko reports, studies show no relationship between college costs and the quality of learning: Students who attend community colleges learn just as much as students who attend four-year colleges. Most importantly, students who transfer to four-year colleges from two-year colleges are just as likely to earn bachelor's degrees as those who start at four-year colleges.

Student satisfaction? As I wrote last week on DailyFinance, surveys show that community college students report higher levels of satisfaction with their programs than those attending four-year colleges.

In other words, there doesn't appear to be any financial or education advantage to be attained from starting at a four-year college; and yet most families with college-bound high school seniors fork over tens of thousands of dollars or more for degrees -- and lard their kids down with debt in the process.

That's why, if you ask me, the smartest college grads are the ones who started at two-year colleges.

Zac Bissonnette's Debt-Free U: How I Paid For An Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, Or Mooching Off My Parents was called "best and most troubling book ever about the college admissions process" by The Washington Post.