A Helpful Guide to the Differences Between City Colleges and State Colleges

Background on City Schools

Joliet Junior College

Sometimes called community colleges, city colleges are typically two-year institutions that are funded by cities. For example, the oldest city college is the Joliet Junior College which was established in Illinois in 1901. City colleges tend to be cheaper than state colleges and universities and are usually technical or vocation in their courses they offer.

Students who attend city colleges often do so to acquire an associate's degree and many tend to pursue state colleges or universities to earn a bachelor's degree. City colleges are often labeled as less credible than state colleges or universities, however this is not always the case. For example, students who wish to pursue vocational careers such as car mechanics, often benefit from city colleges rather than state colleges or universities. Many prominent careers such as electricians and plumbers usually only require associate's degrees.

Background on State Schools

State colleges or universities differ from city colleges in that students can acquire a bachelor's degree in about four years. In

University of Tennessee at Martin

addition, state universities can offer graduate courses that can allow students to pursue master's or doctorate degrees. Courses are often more varied and academic standards are regulated more strictly than city colleges. In addition, state colleges and universities are funded by the state rather than the city.

State colleges and universities are also different in that they are focused more on academic fields rather than the technical and vocation fields of city colleges. In addition, state colleges and universities are often selective of the credits that they accept and many might not accept certain credits from city colleges. Many students tend to pursue state colleges or universities after they have acquired an associate's degree to pursue a bachelor's degree.

Let's explore the difference between city colleges and state colleges by analyzing the pros and cons of city colleges first.

Pros and Cons-City

There are several positive aspects of community colleges that students can take advantage of. For example:

  1. City colleges are often cheaper in tuition than state colleges and universities.
  2. Some professions benefit from associate's degrees that city colleges offer such as technical and vocational paths.
  3. These colleges often offer flexible schedules that are aimed towards students who are working on the side. For example, night classes are very common for students who work full-time.
  4. City colleges also offer an opportunity for students to get their general studies requirements met while deciding what career they wish to pursue. If they achieve their associate's degree, many students can easily transition to state colleges or universities.

Even with these advantages, city colleges also have some disadvantages. For example:

  1. City colleges are often limited in curriculum. For example, many offer two-year associate's degrees may be limited in scope if a student wishes to pursue a specific degree that is only offered by four-year institutions.
  2. The assigned work may not be as challenging and may have lesser expectations. Some students may attend city colleges due to their lower grades and oftentimes the curriculum standards are lowered.
  3. Sometimes city colleges may not have a well-developed campus community due to the atmosphere. For example, many students are also working full-time or attend night classes which hurts campus involvement.

Pros and Cons-State Schools

Like city colleges, state colleges and universities also have several advantages. For example:

  1. State colleges and universities tend to have more challenging courses and more rigorous academic standards and thereby make their degrees more credible.
  2. Tuition can also be affordable if a student lives in the state and receives in-state tuition.
  3. The student body and campus involvement is much more prevalent because many students tend to live on-campus and thrive in getting involved in campus life.
  4. Students also have opportunities to be employed while on campus.
  5. Students also can pursue higher degrees if the state university offers the degree.

However, like city colleges, state colleges and universities also have some drawbacks. For example:

  1. State colleges and universities tend to have larger class sizes and students may have a hard time accessing professors as well as getting into classes they need to take.
  2. These schools are also more expensive than city colleges and many students may have trouble paying for tuition or risk taking out loans to pay for school.
  3. Because some of these schools are rather large, it may be hard to come find information over disputes such as parking tickets. Students may also risk loneliness if they do not actively engage in campus activities.


Finances Can Influence Which Institution is Better to Attend

Even though the difference between city colleges and state colleges are quite apparent, each offer specific advantages for students. If a student wishes to pursue a technical path that is cheap and affordable, city colleges are more favorable. If students wish to pursue four-year degrees in academic fields, it would be wiser to pursue state colleges or universities.

Likewise, costs are also important when factoring which institution to attend. If a student has low finances, it would be better to pursue city college. If they wish to continue their education, they could easily transfer to a state school. The advantages to this include increased opportunities for scholarships as well as the opportunity to save money for the state institution. For example, if a student finishes their general coursework in a city college, they can get most of their general courses out of the way when transferring to a state college.

If a student wants a social life, it would be better to attend state colleges and universities because of increased campus activities as well as a larger student body. Likewise, if a student has a full-time job and is not concerned with social relations, it would be better to attend a city college. Lastly, professors are easier to get a hold of in state colleges than in city colleges.

Overall, the differences between city colleges and state colleges vary, however, each institution serves its purpose for a variety of students depending on their studies.



  • American Association of Community Colleges. "About Community Colleges." https://www.aacc.nche.edu/AboutCC/Pages/default.aspx
  • Scholarships.com. "Pros and Cons of Community Colleges." https://www.scholarships.com/resources/college-prep/choosing-the-right-school/the-pros-and-cons-of-community-colleges/
  • Scholarships.com. "Pros and Cons of State Universities." https://www.scholarships.com/resources/college-prep/choosing-the-right-school/the-pros-and-cons-of-state-universities/


  • Babytexcoco. "Joliet Junior College Sign." https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joliet_Junior_College_Sign.JPG
  • Benjamin Hunt. "UTM Admin Building." https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:UTM_admin_building.jpg
  • J.J. "US Currency Federal Reserve." https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:USCurrency_Federal_Reserve.jpg