According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 34 percent of undergraduate students attended two-year colleges in the fall of 2017. In fact, an increasing number of students elect to obtain an associate’s degree after high school. Some then move on to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
While he enjoys attending UMBC now, senior computer science major Steven Byerly speaks as highly of his time at Anne Arundel Community College. “The 100- and 200-level class are pretty much identical, but it’s a fraction as expensive. Unless you have mega-scholarships, it’s a good choice for saving money on your first two years. You do get your money’s worth,” he attests. Tuition alone at AACC is approximately 66.9 percent of what UMBC charges, and this is without factoring in the price of on-campus housing or food.
“AACC was like 10 minutes from our house,” Byerly continues. “I could live at home. I didn’t want to waste my parents’ money living at school, and I think living at school is the main reason you wouldn’t go to a community college.” With savings from work at Booze Allen Hamilton for two summers and some parental assistance, he now pays to rent near the university. It saves him the half-hour daily commute from his father’s place and is still less expensive than a dorm room, but not having rent costs for two extra years out of high school was definitely helpful.
“If your parents let you live with them while you’re still starting out, it makes sense to take them up on it. I wanted to move out now that I’m 21, but living with my dad for a bit after high school was another big way to save money,” he advises, adding, “There’s no shame in saving money.”
Of course, any college is in part what the students make it, and although AACC is frequently commended as one of the best community colleges in the country, its graduation rate still trails UMBC’s by 38.4 percent. “At community college, there’s kind of a split. Most of the people I saw were working really hard, but of course there’s always that guy who just thinks of it as ‘13th grade’,” Byerly admits. “Versus UMBC, in my experience again it’s mostly hard workers, but some people come off as a little… spoiled. I think that’s the word I’d use, but again, that’s the minority. I had a good experience at AACC and I’m having a good experience here.”
“I guess I missed out on the college experience of living on campus, most people probably make their friends in the first two years or probably in the first semester,” Byerly shares. “But a lot of my friends went to community colleges, and some of them actually transferred to UMBC too. And I’m not in debt, so yeah, I would still do it how I did it knowing what I know now.”
When asked for his plans going forward, he smiles and answers, “Keep my 4.0. Maybe do the master’s program at Johns Hopkins, and I can have the full ‘college experience’ there if I want … I’m going to work at Tetra Concepts when I graduate here, and no matter what I’m definitely planning to get rich.” While having the associate’s degree was useful on job applications these past two years, he will soon have a bachelor’s the same as any other UMBC graduate. His experiences and expenses make the difference.