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Wall Street Journal Market Watch


Four Reasons to Choose Community College

November 15, 2013

By Diana Furchtgott-Roth

On Tuesday, at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, D.C., First Lady Michelle Obama declared, "When the year 2020 rolls around, nearly two-thirds of all jobs in this country are going to require some form of training beyond high school. That means whether it’s a vocational program, community college, a four-year university, you all are going to need some form of higher education in order to build the kind of lives that you want for yourselves." (Read the First Lady’s speech here.)

She’s right. But 40% of students who embark on a four-year degree have not completed their education six years later, according to the Department of Education. Inevitably, some major in subjects with lesser hope of employment than others. Plus, the average student-loan debt for graduating seniors is $23,000, according to the New York Federal Reserve Bank. The unemployment rate among young adults ages 20 to 24 is about 13%.

Rather than guiding students who may not be ready for the commitment into four-year degrees that will give them the certainty of debt but, potentially, a questionable number of employment opportunities, school counselors should steer young people toward community colleges.

Community colleges help students gain the low-cost knowledge needed to transfer to four-year institutions, if they so choose, saving them money. They offer students the possibility of a two-year associate degree that gives them the knowledge they need to enter a wide range of careers, including many that offer high pay and steady employment. For those who need extra help, their remediation courses help to develop basic skills, especially in math and writing.

Community colleges can boost economic mobility through their transfer and career functions, which are especially valuable to students who have been most adversely affected by recent economic trends and need help in order to enter rewarding careers.

Data from Florida show that if low-income and low-achieving students attain credentials in high-return fields, such as health care, they can find well-paying jobs, earning approximately $45,000 when they enter the workforce and $60,000 after seven years. Students need to get training that will propel them to worthwhile careers.

Jobs in health-care services, such as a physician’s assistant, occupational therapist, and nurse, are growing. Throughout the recession and the sluggish recovery, jobs in health services have never declined. This is partly due to the aging population, and partly because, unlike with some discretionary purchases, people cannot time when to get sick.

Here are four reasons to choose a two-year community college program over a four-year degree program.

  1. Cost. Community colleges offer a broad range of high-quality courses at a low tuition cost of about $3,130 annually — about 35% of the cost of a attending a public four-year college, and 10% or less of private four-year college expenses. (Read facts about community colleges here)
  2. Location, location, location. Community colleges are widely distributed throughout America and offer classes at convenient times and locations, making it possible for students to live at home while working and meeting family responsibilities. Overall, 1,130 community colleges enroll 13 million students.
  3. Wide Enrollment. Community colleges offer enrollment to students with a variety of educational backgrounds, from top students who can’t afford to attend a four-year college to students who lack the credentials to get into a four-year college to recent immigrants who may have a different educational background than those in the U.S.
  4. High Payoff. Many high-return fields, such as health care, computer programming, building trades, and protective services are open to community-college students with relatively low high-school GPAs. Community colleges play a major role in increasing the earnings of students who would have difficulty boosting their career prospects by completing the four-year programs required to enter high-return fields.

Why don’t more guidance counselors promote community colleges? One reason is that they do not want to appear to discriminate against low-performing students. Many people just think that a four-year college degree is the key to prosperity — even though a two-year degree might be a better choice.

This political correctness is part of the reason for the low graduation rate from four-year institutions and the tragic situation of young people hobbled by education loans that they cannot easily repay.

Young people need information about the returns to various community courses, the characteristics of jobs in different fields, and the aptitudes needed to do well in different courses. They also need information about the probabilities of graduating from different college programs, given their academic history.

Many efforts by government, foundations, and private organizations are aimed at improving academic performance, especially among low-income students. Much less attention is given to simple career counseling to help low-income students increase their earnings.

Michelle Obama is right. Students need post-secondary training to be able to have well-paying jobs. But they do not always need a four-year college. Choosing a high-return field and completing career-oriented courses at community colleges is a more cost-effective education with a higher payoff.

Original Source:



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