This year, 12 million students are enrolled in community colleges. In addition, that number is bound to grow.
President Obama has called for every American to complete at least one year of postsecondary education. So, whether you’re helping your teen select a college or considering getting additional education yourself, consider your local community college.
ACT surveys for Faces of the Future show that:
• Community colleges play a substantial role in preparing students for today's workplace.
• Students who have already attained advanced degrees often choose community colleges to upgrade skills.
• Community colleges are the best hope to ensure career and earning competitiveness for the least skilled and most economically disadvantaged.
To be sure, there are real economic reasons for pursuing education beyond high school. According to research from the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics, for every year of education beyond high school, mean wages increase and unemployment rates decrease. The research surveyed 2007 earnings for year-round, full-time workers 25 years and older. The mean earning for high school graduates was $39,035 per year. People with some college/no degree earned $46,001, while those with an associate’s degree earned $48,083 per year. Those with a bachelor’s degree earned $68,176.
In addition to higher salaries, unemployment rates have historically been lower for the more educated. In 2008, those with a high school degree reported a 5.7 unemployment rate. That number dipped to 5.1 for those with some college/no degree and to just 3.7 for people with an associate’s degree.
On a per-credit basis, community colleges offer benefits similar to four-year colleges. Pew’s Economic Mobility Project (EMP) reports that credits at both types of institutions “convey an annual earnings increase of roughly four to six percent for every 30 credits (two semesters) of courses completed.”
Community colleges serve many populations and provide many resources. For some, community colleges are:
• The first step toward a four-year degree;
• A place to gain vocational training;
• A destination to earn a 2-year associate’s degree;
• The best way to earn college credits while still in high school;
• A place to re-train, re-group and re-enter the workforce after being unemployed.
Community colleges offer a wide variety of programs and career options for both recent high school graduates and those returning to school. They also provide affordable education, local access, transferable credits and vocational opportunities.
All high school students –no matter what their future plans – should take a rigorous core curriculum to prepare for life after graduation. ACT recommends at least four years of English; at least three years of mathematics, including algebra I, geometry and algebra II; three years of science, including biology, chemistry and physics; and three years of social studies. Students who take these classes are more likely to be ready for college or work when they graduate.
Whether attending a community college for an associate’s degree, a certification program or to complete general education requirements – it’s important to map out a blueprint for success.
Make plans to meet with a community college counselor as soon as possible. The counselor can help you plan courses, get involved in school activities and clubs, assess readiness for certain classes and programs, explore careers, research financial aid options and verify if your credits will transfer to both your chosen four-year school and your chosen major.
Many community colleges and high schools use ACT’s COMPASS® assessment program (www.act.org/compass) as an outreach tool. It tests skills in mathematics, reading, writing skills, essay writing and English as a second language. The results help colleges place students in the appropriate level of classes so they can succeed from the start.
I recently attended a reception at our local community college. I was so inspired with the students I met there. I asked students why they’d chosen a community college and if they felt they’d made a good choice. They had many reasons for their decisions, but to a person, they told me that they felt they’d made the right move.
In addition, many I spoke with were planning to attend well-known four-year universities and, because of their hard work and good grades in community college, had earned scholarships to continue their studies.
Clearly, community colleges work. That’s why President Obama wants to increase the number of community college graduates. ACT looks forward to the realization of this goal as it fully supports our mission to help everyone achieve workplace and education success.
Rose Rennekamp is the vice president of communications for ACT. For more college and career-planning information, visit www.act.org.