Another tactic to cut tuition costs is to you education at a community college and then transfer to a four-year school. According to a white paper from education organization Breakthrough collaborative, this strategy makes no difference in earning potential. And since attending a community college is so much cheaper, that could mean you realize a higher return on your investment over a lifetime of earning.
However, the paper does note a couple of concerns with starting at a community college.
"The likelihood of earning a bachelor's degree is significantly reduced if a student starts her post-secondary education at a community college, and the amount of time it takes to complete a bachelor's degree (and potentially, the amount of loans a student accrues) is greatly increased," the paper said.
But for a student looking for the most cost-effective route to graduation, that shouldn't obscure the key finding: Simply starting at a community college doesn't make a difference in the return of that four-year degree.
Proprietary or for-profit college may be another story.
"For-profit colleges are a mixed bag," Kantrowitz says. "Some graduates of for-profit colleges do well financially. But others do not. The key problems with for-profit colleges are high cost and high dropout rates."
A 2012 paper from the Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment concluded that while for-profit schools had "greater success at retaining students in their first year and getting them to complete short programs at the certificate and AA levels," that benefit didn't last.
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