A closer look at community colleges
As they innovate faster than universities. But that's their mission, isn't it? From The Hechinger Report.
Long the Rodney Dangerfields of American higher education, community colleges are suddenly getting some respect. . . .
But at a time when there’s huge pressure for reform in higher education, many community colleges are proving more responsive than their four-year counterparts.
Community colleges in 21 states have added four-year bachelor’s degree programs in high-demand fields, for example, and those in California will follow suit next year. They’ve 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. Among students who transfer from four-year public universities, more than half now go in the opposite direction of Miramontes and switch to a community college, the National Student Clearinghouse says.
One reason for this may be that nearly 30 percent of graduates of community colleges make more money than their counterparts with bachelor’s degrees, other research by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce shows. And while that advantage narrows by mid career, it’s also true that the community college graduates who benefit from it 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.
Universities haven’t paid much attention to their lower-level counterparts. “Now it’s, ‘Golly, what are they doing over there at that community college?” Debra Bragg, director, Office of Community College Research and Leadership, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Their bachelors degrees, many students have discovered, “didn’t focus on them getting the job they need,” said Michael McCall, president of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. “Whereas they can get an allied health degree from us and go out and make $60,000 or $70,000 a year.”
Community colleges in Tennessee will go completely tuition-free next year, and the same idea is under study in Oregon and being discussed in Indiana, and has been proposed in Texas. Only one in five community-college students has to take out loans to pay for school and other expenses, and the average debt for those who do is is $2,000 less than their counterparts at other types of universities and colleges, The Institute for College Access and Success calculates.