As college tuition continues to climb, more students are going into debt from loans or even dropping out because of the expense and the cycle is getting worse, not better. According to a 2013 estimate by Forbes magazine, students in the U.S. owed a whopping $1.2 trillion in tuition loans and that number is climbing.
Upon graduation, the average student will need to work enough to live while trying to pay off nearly $25,000 in loan debt. This is one reason community colleges are gaining ground as the first, best option for people who want a solid education that leads to gainful employment – and for less money.
Not too long ago the Obama administration announced the importance of community college and an effort to make them tuition-free for low-income families. While there is merit to the sentiment, the idea that an Ivy Leaguer, like the president, speaks as if he just discovered the value of these institutions always comes across as elitist and insulting.
When highbrow critics slam community college curriculum as easier, less valuable, or someplace only the low-performers go, it only serves to make those ivory-towered onlookers appear less intelligent. For some people, the community college serves to fill in educational gaps left by their high school experience.
The department of education reports that 40-percent of students who set out to earn a four-year degree still have not completed it by year six. Even so, many guidance counselors don’t suggest community college to lower-income or poorly performing students out of a sense of political correctness.
If the counselor sincerely suggests to a low-income individual, particularly a minority, that community college might be their best option, he or she could very well appear racist or the like. As a result, many students head for universities who may either not be ready for it academically or who simply cannot afford it.
Of course, not all community colleges are created equal. There are certainly those institutions that need curriculum improvement, which is why these schools must make every effort to attract talented faculty.
The Dayton, Ohio area has about a half-dozen, highly rated community colleges including Edison Community College, ITT Technical Institute, and, the fastest growing and largest, Sinclair Community College. Established in the basement of the Dayton YMCA in 1887, Sinclair is the oldest and often rated as most popular in the region and a leader in healthcare and high tech education.
Sinclair established university parallel programs more than 25 years ago, providing students the opportunity to earn an associate’s degree in engineering and other programs that transfer directly into four-year schools like University of Dayton and Ohio University, Athens. Many community colleges today offer this type of continuing program to allow students to build momentum in their college careers and nail down the academic path that most suits their goals.
Community college is an amazing opportunity for many students, allowing for more hands-on training that is generally possible at the university level and from people who have worked in the field. Most community college instructors and professors have spent years in real-life work situations, not just in academia and theory.
As it has been since their inception, community colleges also tailor programs for adult and continuing education students. From evening courses to satellite classes, adult students can earn their associate’s degree or work toward a certificate required to advance in their current job. Some larger employers even collaborate with the colleges to offer the course work on site.
Whatever the reason, lower tuition, work advancement or kick starting a longer academic career, community colleges offer a great many options for students and are not merely the “last resort.” Education and knowledge are what grow an economy, not political rhetoric and empty promises.
The university experience is simply not for everyone, regardless of academic prowess and financial means. Americans must relieve the stigma associated with community college programs and present instead a unified front for educational options in the 21st Century. Everyone benefits from education, workers, employers, the community and the country.
Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer. Deer In Headlines syndicated by GLD Enterprises Communications. More at gerydeer.com.