As community college administrators, statistics on enrollment, retention and completion are consistently in the forefront of our minds. Over the last few years, in an environment of budget cuts stemming from decreased federal, state and private funding, community colleges have struggled not only to attract students but also to get them to the finish line — graduating with a degree or certificate. These struggles affect those statistics.
We all know the numbers: Fewer than 4 in 10 community college students complete a degree within six years. The number of students in community college fell nearly 4 percent from 2012 to 2013 and has fallen another 3 percent since then. The list goes on.
Despite these numbers, we need to remind ourselves — and all potential students — that in today’s economy, community colleges remain a wise choice for higher education. A recent piece by PBS NewsHour, Why Even Top Tier Students Should Consider Community Colleges, lists the many benefits of a community college degree. Community college is a smart choice for all students across the nation, including top-tier students.
Here are three reasons why, as outlined by PBS:
- “Community college graduates … pay much less on average for their educations — $3,264 per year for tuition and fees, according to the College Board, compared to $8,893 per year at public and $30,094 per year at private four-year colleges and universities.” — PBS NewsHour
Tuition at a community college is often 50 percent lower than that of a public four-year college or university. In today’s economy, it is especially important that we help students make financially smart decisions that will keep them free of debilitating debt. That’s why one recommendation of AACC’s 21st Century Initiative advocates targeting public and private investments to ensure college is affordable for every student. With fewer student loans post-graduation, our students can start their careers on the right foot.
- “[Community colleges have] connected closely with local businesses, and provide education so much more in tune with workforce needs that people who have bachelor’s and even master’s degrees return to community colleges for training that will get them jobs.” — PBS NewsHour
Community colleges understand the needs of American employers and the economy. Many colleges already have strong partnerships with local and regional companies. Through tailored, industry-specific programs, community colleges graduates have the technical and practical skills needed to fill available jobs. Such relationships are vital to closing the American skills gap, which is why AACC advocates for strengthening partnerships between academia and industry. We believe that a high-quality education is one that equips students with the knowledge and skills required for the jobs of today and tomorrow.
- “Nearly 30 percent of graduates of community colleges make more money than their counterparts with bachelor’s degrees.” — PBS NewsHour
A community college education not only saves students money through affordable tuition, but it also sets them up for a career of significant earnings and financial security. A recent report by PayScale, which we covered last month, confirmed that community college graduates’ starting salaries are as high or higher than those of graduates of four-year colleges and universities. Considering community college students pay only a fraction of the price for a degree compared with four-year college students, it’s no wonder more families view two-year degrees as a good starting point for the pursuit of higher education.
It’s time to replace all the talk of low retention and completion with a healthy discussion of the benefits of community colleges — namely, that they provide an affordable education and a gateway to successful employment.
Tell us about any partnerships your community college has with local employers in the Comments.