Colleges have been getting a bad rap these days. There are countless articles online about why college is no longer worth its premium price tag. With the average private college tuition costing $32,405 a year, there’s no question that prospective students and their families are questioning whether or not the cost is warranted.
Also under scrutiny is the value of having a quality education – is it really necessary today? Does having a degree result in higher paying jobs or opportunities that wouldn’t be had otherwise?
If you aren’t careful about what you read and where it’s coming from, it’s easy to think that college is no longer a necessary milestone. But the reality is that college remains an instrumental part of choosing a meaningful and well-paying career.
Why College Matters – and Always Will
Figures consistently show that college graduates are more likely to make more money than high school graduates. According to Simply Hired, the average salary for a person with a college degree is $46,000 whereas someone without a degree makes an average of $32,000.
Additionally, many of today’s jobs require at least an associate’s degree. Specific jobs like electricians and mechanics require specific degrees. Aside from the obvious metrics, it’s also worth pointing out that college builds valuable work and personal skills that prepare young people for the real world. You can’t put a price on independence and self confidence.
Moving Away from the Stigma
It’s clear that college is a beneficial route for many individuals. What we think needs to be changed is the idea that there’s only one right way to get there. The traditional four-year college experience is not the only means for acquiring a quality education. Trade or vocational schools are an option, as are community colleges. As a matter of fact, America prospers from these two-year schools.
President Obama said it best back in 2010 when he was discussing his plan to make community colleges accessible and affordable to every American. Community colleges are “treated like the stepchild of the higher education system. They’re an afterthought, if they’re thought of at all.”
Fortunately, things are changing for the better. Obama has made community colleges the “centerpiece of (his) education agenda.” Though Congress initially turned down the restructuring of America’s community colleges that would offer free tuition to some, if not all, students, the point is that these colleges are finally getting recognized.
Why Community Colleges Benefit Americans
Let’s explore some of the ways that community colleges give back to America and why they are finally acquiring the attention and recognition they deserve – even when stacked against a four-year university.
They help bridge the wealth gap.
A Georgetown study argues that two-thirds of American jobs will require some degree of postsecondary training by 2018. Technology and the outsourcing of jobs has steadily decreased the number of blue-collar jobs available, and the differences in pay between those with college degrees and those without them are growing further apart. Bottom line: a degree is needed to secure dependable work.
Thanks to community colleges, over seven million students are able to earn credit toward an associate’s degree. This means that all students – regardless of their family background and income level – can obtain a higher education and enjoy the same opportunities as their wealthier peers.
A quality education is offered at a reasonable cost.
No matter where students and their families are in terms of income, there’s no reason to pay more for the same thing. Many college students finance a large portion of their education, with the average student loans jumping from $6,200 to $7,800 in just four years. College debt, in itself, has grown to $1.3 trillion.
Community colleges offer a quality education that is a fraction of what a four-year college costs. The College Board estimates that two-year schools cost around $3,350 for fees and tuition while private colleges cost up to 10 times more. Since college students are interested in making more money, why not reduce their costs on the front end and finance less of their education?
Community colleges teach technical skills.
The unemployment rate for 20 to 24 year olds is 10.8 percent, which is double the rate for the general population. Yet with all the unemployed twentysomethings out there, CEOs complain that they can’t find people with applicable skills. Sure, there are large pools of college-educated prospects, but they lack technical skills.
Community colleges do an amazing job of teaching students the technical know-how that is often skipped over at liberal arts colleges. Some schools even form partnerships with local businesses so that students can take part in hands-on work and internships that place them with opportunities following graduation.
Class schedules are flexible.
A four-year institution is a full-time job in itself. That’s fine for students whose primary job is to attend school and get good grades, but that represents just a small group of students. Many young people today are working part- or full-time jobs, raising families and tending to other responsibilities. A part-time education is much more practical and realistic.
Part-time schedules are a staple of community colleges. That’s one of the reasons why they appeal to individuals who aren’t the typical 18-year-old high school graduate. Community colleges handle their schedules differently, so it’s easy to find something that is flexible and appealing. For example, some schools have courses that begin weekly while others excel at hybrid programs.
In fact, if you look hard enough, you can find a program for almost anyone! Some schools cater to high school dropouts, homeschooled students or students with learning disabilities. Just about every community college has accommodating class times and ample parking so that students can attend lectures quickly and efficiently while still having a life outside of college.
Community colleges give second chances.
The traditional four-year college experience isn’t for everyone. Heck, even high school isn’t for everyone. But community colleges reach out to all types of students and allows them a second chance to receive an education and pursue their goals.
These colleges accept people who haven’t touched a book or sat in a classroom for years. They don’t mind if their English is rusty or their experience is lacking. They provide literacy programs, GED preparation and job training to help people follow their dreams and make a better life for themselves in America. In other words, everyone is made to feel welcome at a community college!
College is not something that should only be accessible to those born into money or success. Anyone who wants to seek a higher education should be able to do so, and that’s exactly what community colleges provide for our country. They accept everyone regardless of their background, income level or ethnicity. They recognize that not everyone is in the same place at the same time, but that all Americans have dreams they can pursue. This is how America prospers from community colleges.