News stories continue to pop up examining the value of a college education, the wisdom of a liberal arts degree, increasing tuition and student debt loads, and myriad other questions around the pursuit of higher education.
Of course, the facts are quite clear: a college education is still a great investment in your future. What isn’t always portrayed, however, is the extraordinary value and earning potential available through a community and technical college education. The article below appeared in a recent issue of Forbeswoman magazine, and does a nice job of illustrating just how attractive it might be for a budding college student to consider enrolling at a community or technical college.
Forget Four More Years: Why Community College Could Be Your Ticket To Financial Success
Does less classroom time equal a bigger bottom line? New research shows that when it comes to earning big bucks right after graduation, community college graduates have an edge over those with four-year degrees. CollegeMeasures analyzed data from three states and found that not only did new graduates of technical or occupational programs outearn their community college peers in non-technical programs, they also outearned bachelor’s degree holders. This on the heels of stats from the Department of Labor from the fall that showed job growth for those with associate’s degrees was outpacing that of more advanced degree holders. The good news doesn’t stop there; the majority of the fastest growing occupations in the US, from dental hygienists to veterinary technologists, require only a community college education.
In these sluggish economic times and in light of sky-high unemployment for four-year grads, community college has become an increasingly attractive and affordable option. In 2010 – 2011, the average community college student paid $2713 in tuition - a tenth of the tuition expense shouldered by students at private four-year colleges. Students at community colleges also received, on average, $1700 in Pell Grant aid to offset these tuition fees. While community college tuition costs did rise 2.7% during 2010 – 2011, this was still less than half of the increase at private four-year schools.
Enrollment has reflected this educational bargain, increasing for seven consecutive years during and after the Great Recession and finally dipping only in 2010 – 2011. Completion rates have also been on the rise, having grown 127% between 1989 and 2010. Not only is community college a more affordable option for cash-strapped high school grads unwilling or unable to shell out the tuition for a public or private college education, these schools have a long history of catering to non-traditional students – adult learners, those seeking to re-enter the workforce after a break, part-time students with outside job and family obligations – with flexible class options and accelerated, practical curriculum. The federal government has capitalized on this aspect of the community college system by investing $2B in community college re-training programs for unemployed workers. Community colleges have also surged in popularity among those who already hold four-year degrees and are looking for practical skills to complement their liberal arts education and give them an advantage in the job market.
Cheap tuition augmented by grant money, practical, employable skills, a decent salary and a shorter time investment – what isn’t to love about a community college education? Firstly, graduates of highly specialized technical programs may find themselves locked into those occupations because of a lack of transferable soft skills. If you go to school to learn how to become a submerged arc welder, you will likely graduate as someone who can get a job doing SAW, but if you want to switch careers in 10 years, that decade of technical experience won’t necessarily help you land a position outside your narrow field. Secondly, despite CollegeMeasure’s findings, overall lifetime earnings are still tied to increased education levels. The more schooling you have, the more money you make, as a rule. But even then, 28% of associate’s degree holders buck the trend by outearning their bachelor’s degree counterparts over the life of their careers. File this under further proof that now more than ever, getting a job in this economy is about what you’ve studied vs. where and for how long.