10 Interesting Facts Comparing Community Colleges & 4-Year Institutions

Some say community colleges and four-year universities are birds of a completely different feather. Others say they’re more similar than we account for. Still others prefer waffles over pancakes three out of five mornings. Oops! I’m mixing up my surveys…

The point is, there are a lot of opinions about how community colleges and four-year schools differ in terms of student demographics, costs, access to and use of financial aid, funding and more. We had some questions ourselves, so we decided to track down something more dependable than opinions: statistics. Then I thought, we may as well share them with our favorite higher ed community. Without further delay, here are 10 interesting facts comparing community colleges and four-year schools:


Fact #1. Low socioeconomic status (SES) students outrank high SES students nearly 2:1 at community colleges, while high SES students outrank low SES students at elite colleges 14:1, according to a piece by Georgetown University Center on Education and Workforce Director Anthony Carnevale and Jeff Strohl.

Fact #2. Between 1999 and 2009, funding for public research universities exceeded funding for community colleges to the tune of a shocking $4000:1 discrepancy per student, according to a report by the non-partisan think tank The Century Foundation.

Fact #3. According to CollegeBoard, the distribution of 2009-10 fall undergraduate enrollment by school type was as follows:

  • Public 4-year: 44%
  • Private Nonprofit 4-year: 19%
  • Public 2-year: 26%
  • Private For-profit: 11%
  • Other: <1%


Fact #4. In the 2014-15 school year, tuition and fees at public 4-year colleges were nearly three times that of community colleges. Community college (public, in district) average tuition was $3347, while the tuition of 4-year colleges (public, in-state) averaged $9,139, per the American Association of Community Colleges.

Financial Aid

Fact #5. Although community college and low-income students have the most demonstrated financial need, fewer community college students complete the FAFSA than students at four-year universities, according to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA).

Fact #6. Students attending public community colleges are less likely to take out loans than students in other schools. Part of this is attributed to the lower tuition, but some say this seeming debt aversion causes students to work excessively and only be able to maintain part-time enrollment, according to College Board’s Trends in Higher Education Series.

Fact #7. The percentage of Federal Aid received by Community Colleges in 2013-2014 was

33% – Pell Grants

21% – Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants

16% – Federal Work Study

The Schools

Fact #8. There are 1,123 community colleges in the U.S. 992 are public, 96 are independent and 35 are tribal according to the American Association of Community Colleges. The National Center for Education Statistics states there were 2,870 4-year colleges as of the 2010-11 school year.


Fact #9. One study showed that although 81.4% of students entering community college planned to earn at least a bachelor’s degree, only 11.6% end up doing so.


Fact #10. Both community colleges and 4-year schools have seen a marked improvement in financial aid efficiency, customer service and student satisfaction after using CampusLogic student self-service platforms. Don’t take our word for it. Read customer testimonials here, or learn how a California Community College cut operational costs in half with StudentVerification. Or check out how AwardLetter was the driving force behind WGU’s students borrowing $93 million less in 2013-14.





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About the Author

Amy Glynn, VP Student Financial Success

Amy Glynn joined CampusLogic in 2013, focused on helping colleges and universities deliver student financial success through automation, advising, and analytics. Ever-focused on improving staff efficiency and the student experience, Amy has spent more than a decade optimizing the financial aid process while ensuring institutions maintained compliance with Federal Title IV regulations. A sought-after national-stage speaker, Amy champions ideas that can help turn the tide for the nearly 3 million students who drop out of higher education every year for reasons related to finances. Student financial success has become a strategic imperative for all higher education institutions and Amy often lends her voice to policy discussions focused on improving accessibility, driving informed borrowing, and increasing completion. Amy earned her Master of Science in Higher Education from Walden University.

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