Brittany Halbsgut has a message for incoming college freshmen, and even older students, who are thinking twice about staying enrolled this fall, given that campus life will be upended as a result of the coronavirus and schools are holding many classes online:

Consider community college.

“Hey, it might not be glamorous for the first year, but look how much money you’ll save,” said Halbsgut, 31, of Northern Liberties.

She speaks from experience. Halbsgut is on target to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in organizational studies from the University of Pennsylvania in December, and she said she’s doing it debt-free.

That’s in part because she worked full-time while attending school and took seven years to get her degree, but it’s also because she spent the first half at Community College of Philadelphia, which costs much less.

She touted her experience in a recent LinkedIn post, which actually came about as a result of a class she took this summer at Penn.

Halbsgut said she spent $14,000 to take her first 21 classes at CCP, mostly at nights and in the evenings, to get her associate’s degree in communications. At Penn, she has spent $55,000 for 16 classes, she said. She’s enrolled in Penn’s College of Liberal and Professional Studies for nontraditional students and takes the classes online. Penn’s LPS programs for years have offered an alternative path into the Ivy League university, often taking students who transfer from community colleges.

“I’ll say it louder for the kids in the back who still think attending a university for all four years is the best thing to do,” Brittany Halbsgut said in a LinkedIn post. “GO TO COMMUNITY COLLEGE FIRST!”
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
“I’ll say it louder for the kids in the back who still think attending a university for all four years is the best thing to do,” Brittany Halbsgut said in a LinkedIn post. “GO TO COMMUNITY COLLEGE FIRST!”

If she were a traditional undergraduate, it would have been even more expensive. Penn’s tuition and fees this year exceed $60,000.

She wrote about her experience in the LinkedIn post after doing research for a Penn class on writing for social media. Her topic? The value of community college.

“I went back and looked at all my expenses for my entire college,” she said.

When she saw the numbers, she decided she had to share them, especially given all the people who are losing jobs and struggling financially. Many people, she said, are likely hunting for a less costly collegiate experience.

CCP said it was too early to say how enrollment will shape up for the fall, but the school has had some students who initially planned on going to a four-year school enroll, said Megan Lello, a spokesperson. CCP was one of the first colleges in the region to announce that it would start its fall courses online because of the virus.

Affording college wasn’t easy for Halbsgut. She grew up in Perkasie and attended Pennridge High School. Halbsgut didn’t have a great high school experience, she said, and wasn’t eager to start college. So she moved to Philadelphia and went to cosmetology school. She was a hairdresser for seven years when she decided that she wanted to do more. So she enrolled at CCP in January 2014 and about the same time left her job as a hairdresser and went to work in an office, where she currently has a job in human resources.

“A lot of what I have right now is because CCP gave me an opportunity, and I really took it and ran with it,” she said.

She started her classes at Penn in person in 2017 and in the last year switched to the online program.

After getting her degree, she hopes to help more people understand that there are less costly collegiate paths, she said.

“I’ll say it louder for the kids in the back who still think attending a university for all four years is the best thing to do,” she said in her post. “GO TO COMMUNITY COLLEGE FIRST!”