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Community College Grads Enter Into High-Paying Careers

By AACC Staff

New survey underscores the value of a two-year education, points to the need for strategic investment.

Community college advocates have long billed the nation’s two-year career and technical colleges as reliable springboards to good-paying jobs.

But did you know that many community college graduates make as much, or more, than students who enter the workforce for the first time with a four-year degree?

That’s according to a report released last week from online salary tracker PayScale.

The results, which rank some 349 pubic and private four-year and two-year colleges according to entering and mid-career salary averages as reported by graduates, demonstrate the earning power of an associate degree compared with a four-year degree. (See chart below.)

Community College Four-Year College
Oakton Community College University of Chicago
$48,100 $48,800
Community College of Baltimore County Wellesley College
$46,700 $45,900
Springfield Technical Community College American University
$45,400 $45,100
Northern Virginia Community College Emerson College
$44,900 $44,300

These figures reinforce what community college advocates have known for years: Given the lower cost of completing a two-year degree, community college students who graduate on time can reap a high return on their academic investment.

Rising costs

While community colleges remain a cost-effective alternative to many four-year colleges — the College Board’s Trends in College Pricing 2013 report found that the average annual cost of a public, in-state two-year college in 2013-14 (tuition and fees) was $3,264 compared with $8,893 (tuition and fees) for a public, in-state four-year college — experts say the price of higher education is on the rise.

The College Board estimates that tuition and fees at U.S. two-year in-state colleges rose by 3.5 percent between the 2012-13 and 2013-14 academic year.

To keep costs in check, the American Association of Community Colleges and the members of its 21st-Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges encourage administrators to target public and private investments. Among the recommendations:

  • Ensure affordability. Expand Pell Grant funding for low-income students and restore the summer Pell Grant.
  • Promote college completion. Invest in public funding models that promote and reward college completion and better serve colleges and their students. These include incentives for colleges to preserve access and to serve high-risk and traditionally underserved students.
  • Connect education and jobs. Take steps to officially designate community colleges as the primary providers of workforce education and training in their respective states. At the federal level, continue to fund the U.S. Department of Labor Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant program. This will ensure that colleges meet the needs of local and regional employers and continue to support U.S. economic growth.

What steps has your college taken to target public and private investments to offset rising costs? Tell us in the Comments.

AACC Staff

contributed to this report.

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