Recent studies have shown that community college graduates are earning more than their four-year counterparts coming right out of school. COURTESY TECHNICAL COLLEGE OF THE LOWCOUNTRY

You probably already know that community colleges like the Technical College of the Lowcountry offer an affordable path to higher education. But how affordable is “affordable”? Let’s take a look.

The national average for in-state tuition and fees is close to $10,000 annually at four-year public institutions. Room and board bring the average cost of attendance for a student living on campus to about $26,000 per year, according to educationdata.org.

In comparison, TCL’s annual tuition and fees are $5,140 for those in Beaufort, Jasper, Hampton and Colleton counties. In addition, South Carolina residents automatically qualify for S.C. Lottery Tuition Assistance that brings TCL’s annual tuition and fees to $3,100.

The main takeaway here is that TCL’s tuition is about one-third the cost of other public universities. Put another way, you’ll probably spend more on groceries in a year. TCL also offers a variety of additional scholarship and financial aid opportunities that allow many students to attend tuition-free.

No matter the price tag though, it’s clear that higher education is an investment. But what is the return on a community college education? It might be more than you think.

A number of recent studies have shown that community college graduates are actually earning more than their four-year counterparts coming right out of school.

High-paying careers, such as plumbing, HVAC, nursing and paralegal for example, don’t require a bachelor’s degree. Students can earn a college certificate or associate degree in these fields in just a year or two and then quickly enter the workforce, where they make great money (and have more to spend in our communities).

Industry partnerships and program advisors guide community college offerings and ensure relevant and rigorous curriculum. As a result, employment opportunities abound for graduates and alumni. 

If a bachelor’s degree is the ultimate goal, TCL also can provide an affordable option to get there. The college offers seven university transfer degrees that are guaranteed to transfer in full to public universities in South Carolina and beyond.

Completing the first two years of college at TCL saves students (and their parents) tens of thousands of dollars.

Debt-free college can still be a reality. Community colleges like TCL provide a real-world college education you can bank on.

Leigh Copeland is the assistant vice president of marketing and public relations for Technical College of the Lowcountry.