A single learning institution may not fit your busy schedule or meet all of your academic needs. Can you enroll in more than one community college at a time to create a customized program? Yes, you can! Prepare yourself with this guide to enjoy the benefits and avoid the pitfalls.
What Requirements Do I Have to Fulfill at Each Institution?
If you choose to attend more than one community college at a time, you will be ''co-enrolled'' at each institution. You may have to go through orientation sessions or complete basic skill tests for each school you attend. However, some schools will accept proof that you have already met these requirements at another institution.
Your ''home school'' is where you take most of your classes. Your ''host school'' is another community college where you take additional courses toward your certification or degree.
Your home school will probably require you to file a ''consortium agreement'' (or ''co-enrollment agreement''). This document defines which college is the home school, and which is the host school. It may only be valid for one term at some schools; you may need to file a new agreement each term. The host school(s) may also want a copy for their records.
Filing a consortium agreement allows courses from both home and host schools to be considered in your financial aid arrangement. In addition, it notifies your home school of your intent to apply credits from another institution toward earning your degree at their school.
What Do I Need to Consider Regarding Financial Aid?
If you wish to apply for financial aid to help you pay for your degree, you must be sure that your home school and your host school(s) are all eligible for financial aid—although financial aid would only be disbursed through your home school. The admissions offices at each school can provide this information.
Even if your home school attendance is only part-time, the credits you're taking at your host school might tip the balance to give you full-time student status at your home school. Achieving that full-time student status makes you eligible for maximum financial aid in some cases, such as Pell Grant awards.
What are Some Potential Concerns?
Aside from the extra paperwork, there are a few other issues to consider:
Openness to Co-Enrollment
Some schools may not accept co-enrollment on principle, which may thwart your plans. Other schools, like Austin Community College, have existing co-enrollment partnerships with four-year colleges (rather than with other community colleges).
Before you get your heart set on attending particular community colleges, talk to their admissions offices. Do some research to find out if those schools accept co-enrollment arrangements, or have rigid co-enrollment requirements that might not work for you.
Acceptance of Credits from Other Colleges
You might be considering attending more than one community college at a time because you can't find all the courses you want at a single community college. In some cases, the courses might be available, but you can't take them because of scheduling conflicts.
If you find the course(s) you need at a host school, don't assume that your home school will accept all of those credits toward your degree. Make sure that each host school has the proper accreditation mandated by your home school and that all of your home school's academic requirements are met by the coursework you take elsewhere.
These issues should be explicitly addressed in the consortium or co-enrollment agreement you file with your home school. You'll want everything in writing, in case the arrangement is ever questioned by your home school or your host school(s).
Hidden Costs of Co-Enrollment
A different community college may charge considerably less for some courses. By picking and choosing from more than one institution's offerings, you might be able to whittle down the price tag for your education. Just look out for hidden costs and administrative fees that might nullify the advantage of cheaper courses.
For example, if one of the courses you need is $200 less at a host school than at your home school, you may be tempted to co-enroll to take advantage of the lower price. However, the host school might charge you a $50 enrollment fee, a $175 non-resident fee, and a $35 parking fee—even if you're only taking one course there.
Always read the fine print and do the math for yourself to make sure you're not getting charged more than you bargained for.
Co-Enrollment: A Custom Combination
By enrolling in more than one community college at a time, you may be able to tailor an academic program that fits your individual needs. As long as you carefully consider the requirements, stay organized, and keep your home school and host school(s) up-to-date, co-enrollment might give you the right blend of resources to help you complete your degree.