The Value of a Community College

Technical degree holders from [a] state’s community colleges often earn more their first year out than those who studied the same field at a four-year university.

Take graduates in health professions from Dyersburg State Community College. They not only finish two years earlier than their counterparts at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, but they also earn $5,300 more, on average, in their first year after graduation.

In Virginia, graduates with technical degrees from community colleges make $20,000 more in the first year after college than do graduates in several fields who get bachelor’s degrees. Yet high-school seniors are regularly told that community colleges are for students who can’t hack it on a four-year campus.

…Colleges don’t like being measured by the earnings of their graduates. Defining value in such a narrow way, they argue, obscures the broader benefits of higher education. They point out that first-year salaries often have no bearing on earnings later in life. It’s true that those with bachelor’s degrees typically earn more over a lifetime than those with a two-year degree, but that’s little consolation to those who are discouraged from going to community colleges and end up dropping out of a four-year school without a degree.

… As the researchers themselves admit, the data would be more useful if they included more than the first-year salaries of those graduates who remain in state to work. But improving these tools has been slow going, largely because the higher-education lobby has fought federal efforts to create a “unit-record” system that could work across state lines to link students’ educational and employment histories.

From Jay Selingo writing at the WSJ, he has a book coming out, College Unbound, that looks promising.

Hat tip: Daniel Lippman.

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