For generations now, education has been a ticket out of poverty, and up the economic ladder in the United States. We can look at numerous examples of people who were born into less than ideal circumstances, and used America’s public and private education institutions to climb out of poverty and make something of themselves.
On a smaller scale, the same thing has been happening all over the country for decades. We’re not talking about people getting into Harvard and building the next great innovation, necessarily. This is about ordinary people who have used community resources and education systems to learn and develop skills that have led to jobs, careers, and ultimately, economic security.
And as many of these millions of people will tell you, in a lot of those cases it’s because they took a road that is sometimes looked upon as a second-rate option – they went to community college.
This sentiment is clearly expressed by a veteran in a recent article from Task & Purpose, a military-oriented news and opinion site. That piece, titled “As a Vet, Enrolling in Community College Was The Smartest Thing I’ve Ever Done,” reflects on how the community college experience is, in some ways, more hands-on and worthwhile than the ‘traditional’ college experience.
In the author’s experience, a couple of big reasons why attending a community college was superior to heading to a four-year university fresh out of high school were immaturity and costs. Both can be ironed out at a community college at a fraction of the cost of a university, at least on some level.
“If a student doesn’t really know what he/she wants to study, it makes sense to enroll in general study courses at a community college,” Ann Lyons, an administrator at Germanna Community College in Virginia, told Task & Purpose. “Our students have the opportunity to spend two years exploring various academic disciplines and can transfer to excellent universities to focus on a particular major.”
Of course, the big kicker here is that community colleges traditionally have abysmal graduation rates. There is a bit of a pitfall in staying at home (or close to home), surrounded by your family, friends, and slinking back into familiar habits. It’s easy to lose focus, and slowly but surely uncouple from your educational goals.
Less than 40% of students end up graduating within six years as a result. But all things considered, putting faith in one’s ability to stay focused and tackle goals while attending community college is a far better option – especially for lower-income folks – than taking out tens of thousands of dollars in student loans, and betting on the fact that you won’t flunk out of a four-year university. It can be hard to tell just how mature you are at 18 or 19, and leaving home for the party atmosphere (or the expected party atmosphere) of college ends up with a number of victims who are left with considerable debt and nothing to show for it.
These days, young people are grappling with a stark reality in which going to college – a private or public four-year institution, that is – may not be worth it. There are dozens of factors to consider, of course, many having to do with personal interest, funding options, and even technological development and the economic future. It’s difficult to tell what skills will be in high-demand 10 or 15 years from now, especially with the global economy rapidly changing.
You can’t forget that we may finally be seeing the proverbial bubble burst, as low-income students are starting to be dissuaded from going to college altogether. Record levels of student debt will have that effect.
So, here’s the thing to think about, whether you’re a prospective student looking to enter the workforce, someone trying to add to your skill set and change careers, or even a father or grandfather looking out for your children or grandchildren: take community colleges and trade schools seriously.
They’ve helped millions of people build better lives.
There’s little doubt that higher education increases lifetime earnings, and opens up new doors, opportunities, and career options. The proof has been staring us in the face for years. And in a day and age in which a college degree can cost as much as a piece of property, it’s quickly becoming the only real option for many students.
The White House is even throwing some serious weight behind community colleges, and in some circumstances, you can even attend for free. These institutions have been called America’s “best-kept secrets,” and we should all put more stock into using them, whether we’re looking to improve our own personal economic standing or looking out for the next generation.