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JENKINS: Two-year and state colleges: Now more of a bargain than ever

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

If you’re still trying to figure out how to pay for college in the fall — well, maybe you’re looking at the wrong college.

By now every Georgian knows that, beginning next school year, the HOPE Scholarship will cover only 90 percent of tuition for most qualified students. At the same time, the state’s three major research institutions — The University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Georgia State — have all raised tuition and fees, leaving students and their families to cover an additional $1,400 per year.

What many people might not know is that Georgia’s two-year and state colleges remain an incredible bargain — one that cost-conscious consumers would do well to consider.

In the University System of Georgia, two-year colleges serve primarily as portals into the four-year universities. The state’s largest two-year school, with more than 25,000 students, is Georgia Perimeter College, which has locations in Clarkston, Dunwoody, Alpharetta and Covington.

In other words, there’s a GPC campus within a 20-minute drive of most people reading this column.

The term “state college,” in the USG, denotes a campus that is much like a two-year school — in fact, most used to be two-year schools — but that also offers a handful of bachelor’s degrees. Area colleges in this category include Georgia Gwinnett and Gainesville State.

As part of the USG, two-year and state colleges have also seen tuition and fees go up — just not as much. Out-of-pocket expenses for students on HOPE will increase by less than $500 next year for GPC and Gainesville students, and only $700 for students at Georgia Gwinnett. Compare that to the cost hike mentioned above.

And that’s not even taking into account the money students will save by living at home for an extra year or two while attending a nearby two-year or state college.

What about academic quality? There’s no question that UGA, Tech, and GSU have outstanding faculties. Unfortunately, at a major research university, many lower level courses are taught by graduate students. Freshmen and sophomores rarely get to interact with professors.

But at a two-year or state college, virtually all classes are taught by experienced instructors. Those classes also tend to be much smaller, with 40 people in a lecture class instead of 400. Maybe that’s why students who transfer from GPC, GGC, or GSC to one of the state’s universities have an average GPA of around 3.0 in their first year.

Finally, although two-year and state colleges tend to have lower admission standards than research universities, they also cater to the academically gifted. GPC’s Honors Program, for instance, routinely sends transfers not only to UGA and Georgia Tech but also to Emory, Ogelthorpe, and Agnes Scott — many on scholarship.

Clearly, two-year and state colleges are no longer just for students who can’t get into a university. These days, they’re also the logical choice for anyone who wants a quality education minus the crippling debt.

Rob Jenkins is a free lance writer and college professor who lives in Lawrenceville. Email him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.