Before students flock to online courses at community colleges, experts suggest students check whether they can indeed transfer their courses and actually save money.
In many parts of the country, due often to pressure from state legislatures, public four-year institutions are adopting agreements with community colleges that allow students to more easily transfer credits between the schools.
But progress has been slow, according to David Baime, senior vice president of government relations and research at the American Association of Community Colleges.
"It's not by leaps and bounds but by fits and starts," he says. "And the existence of an agreement on paper doesn't necessarily mean it will be observed in practice."
Before signing up for an online community college course intended for transfer, higher education advocate Russell Poulin says students should determine whether the course will fit the specific degree requirements of their home institution.
In some cases, a four-year institution will accept credit for a course, but will not count it toward a specific major or minor, he says.
Students looking to take online courses at community colleges should also consider financial aid concerns, says Poulin, who serves as deputy director of research and analysis for WCET, a cooperative aiming to promote the effective use of technology in higher education.
Students can use federal financial aid at only one institution, but some colleges participate in consortia agreements that allow students to enroll in a partner college while maintaining aid eligibility at their home institution, he says.
[Find out why some politicians recommend community college.]
Finally, Poulin recommends that students factor in any additional costs, such as admission fees, technology, charges for entrance tests and class fees.
"For a lot of community colleges, fees are very low," he says. "But they vary quite a bit."
Hicks, who will end up taking six courses at Ivy Tech before he graduates, says his classes at the two institutions were more or less the same in terms of quality. For financially stressed students, he says taking online community college courses is a great option.
"There seems to be no 'hidden' fees at Ivy Tech," says Hicks. "I also like the smaller class sizes and you seem to get better one-on-one assistance from the professors if needed."
Trying to fund your online education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for Online Education center.