Editor's Note (The View From Here)

Stepping Stones

I just read a surprising article published in U.S. News & World Report headlined, “Graduates of 4-Year Universities Flock to Community Colleges for Job Skills. As many as 1 in 5 community college students already have bachelor’s degrees.” According to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), one out of every 14 people who attend community has already earned a bachelor’s degree, and in some colleges the number is one out of five.

Community colleges were always thought of as a stepping stone, preparing students for transfer to four-year institutions — not the other way around. They had open-access admissions policies, comprehensive educational programs, were community-based and cost-effective. In the latest College Board report average published tuition and fee prices in 2015-16 for in-district students at public two-year institutions averaged $3,430, compared to $9,410 for in-state students at public four-year institutions.

While lower tuition and costs may be attracting new students to community colleges, it is workforce development and skills training that are attracting students already holding bachelor’s degrees. While unemployment soared during the Great Recession, reaching 9.9 percent in March of 2010, the national unemployment rate has declined to 5.0 percent in March of 2016. Many of those who were unemployed are still under-employed. In 2016 wages are predicted to increase 2.5 percent when adjusted for inflation, but after years of salary cuts and no cost-of-living increases employees are leaving their current jobs and looking for greener pastures.

Many former students are taking courses at their local community college in an effort to make themselves more marketable. Others, especially in technology-related professions, are returning to keep their certifications current or upgrade their skills, and it is paying off.

In February 2014 the AACC and Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI) released a report, “Where Value Meets Values: The Economic Impact of Community Colleges.” The report shows that community colleges are a boon to the American economy at large as well as to individual students. For every one dollar a student spends on his or her community college education, he or she sees an ROI of $3.80. If you ask me, that is a pretty good investment!

This article originally appeared in the issue of .