What is the 2+2 program to reduce student loan debt?

Some college-bound students are money by spending two years at a community college then transfer to a university. (iStock​​​​)

Student debt is rising, but what if you could earn your bachelor’s degree at a reputable university and not have the huge debt that saddles most students? Through the "2+2 Program," college-bound kids and adults are turning to their more affordable local community college for their first two years of education, then transferring to a university for the last two years.

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As four-year college tuition continues to skyrocket, the community college benefits become more evident. The College Board notes that the average annual tuition at a public community college is $3,440. That doesn’t include the savings you’ll have after applying for scholarships and grants.

The cost is a drop in the bucket when compared to the average annual tuition at four-year public and private colleges, where yearly tuition ranges from $9,410 to $32,410, according to the College Board.

Through the 2+2 program, students can enroll in a community college and earn a certification or their associate degree after two years, then seamlessly transfer to a four-year degree program for their final last two years, where they’ll earn their bachelor’s degree.

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With student debt averaging about $40,000, many students who start at four-year colleges and universities are stressed about paying off their loans after graduating. In fact, student debt reached an astonishing $1.6 trillion last year. Numbers from the Federal Reserve show that student loans for college have increased by a whopping 107 percent over the past decade, from $772 billion in 2009.

As a result, the two years at a community college then transfer to a university plan is gaining traction among the financially savvy college-minded demographic. Take the San Diego Community College District, for example, where an increasing number of students transfer to San Diego State University, UC Berkeley and UCLA, according to the district’s office of Institutional Research and Planning.

And it’s not the community college of yesteryear. Today’s two-year colleges have state-of-the-art facilities, more extra-curricular activities and articulation agreements -- like the 2+2 program -- to clearly document the transfer policies.

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The keyword here is "clearly." Many community colleges and four-year colleges are collaborating to make sure the course load is complementary. This means students no longer need to worry about wasting money on classes that don’t transfer over to other schools.

The College Board recommends that students sign up for a transfer program right away. A report by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation notes that community college transferees have equal to higher graduation rates as students who enrolled directly from high school or those who transferred from other universities. The report also notes they earn their degrees within two and a half years, on average.

Be sure and consider all factors when making the decision to take advantage of community college benefits. While the financial benefits of attending a community college are many, there are a few cons to think about. It’s important to note that community colleges have a limited curriculum, there may not be much of a campus life compared to traditional colleges, and the workload is lighter and less rigorous than that of a university.

Meanwhile, politicians are taking note of the debilitating student debt and Democratic presidential candidates like Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have even suggested student loan debt forgiveness programs.  But, until that becomes a reality, students remain debt stressed.

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Transferring to a community college is a great way to reduce student loans for college. Two-year colleges also may offer many more options for evening classes, which allow you to work during the day. Decreasing your student debt liability while still working toward your goal of a four-year degree can be a win-win.

What you should know about community college benefits

  • The tuition at community colleges is far less than tuition at four-year colleges so you will graduate with less student loan debt.
  • Community college partnerships with four-year institutions have made the transfer process much easier over the years.
  • More college-bound students are opting to start at a community college for their first two years through the ‘2+2’ program then get their bachelor’s degree at four-year institution.