Community college may not save you money after all

For many students, there are definite advantages to starting their college education at a community college. For example, staying close to their families or improving their chances of getting into their dream college can be attractive options. Community colleges also make sense for students pursuing careers that don't require a bachelor's degree.

For these reasons, community college provides a solid alternative to a traditional university. But many students enroll in community colleges in the belief that it will save them money, since tuition at these schools is usually far less expensive than at a four-year school. A recent study, however, casts doubt on the idea of community college as a way to save money, In fact, the study showed that students who start out at community colleges pay as much or more than their peers who begin their college educations at four-year schools.

In a report released in December 2012, "A Brief Look at Transfer Students and Financial Aid," researchers found that bachelor's-degree-seeking students may not actually keep college costs down by starting at a community college. Instead, the report shows that students who start at a two-year college and transfer and graduate from a four-year university borrow as often and as much as "native" students who begin at the university level.

What were the numbers? Among students who borrowed to pay for school, the total student loan debt was about $20,000 for both transfer students and native students at public four-year schools. For students who went to private school, transfer students actually borrowed more than native students: $27,000 vs. $25,000.

As you start making plans and decisions for your education beyond high school, keep in mind that while there are some good reasons to start out at your local community college, saving money probably isn't one of them.