Community colleges draw more young, middle-class students

Community colleges will become “separate and unequal” unless they recruit more middle-class students, argues a Century Foundation task force.

In hard times, middle-class families are taking a second look at low-cost community colleges. Nationwide, 22 percent of college students with family incomes over $100,000 attended community colleges last year, up from 16 percent four years ago, according to Sallie Mae.

Younger, wealthier students demand more from community colleges, reports Inside Higher Ed.

“Community college gradually is gaining wider acceptance as the default option out of high school,” said Stephen G. Katsinas, director of the University of Alabama’s Education Policy Center.

Relatively affluent young students are typically better-prepared academically and have a good chance of earning a degree. They are also more likely to attend full-time, require less remediation than their peers and can be cheaper for community colleges to educate.

But this group is also demanding, as traditional-age students want a full campus experience with amenities like fitness centers and extracurricular activities, which can mean new buildings and strained student service budgets. They are also more likely to seek out counselors, experts said.

Raritan Valley Community College in suburban New Jersey is seeing a surge of young, middle-class students who plan to earn bachelor’s degrees. The college remodeled the cafeteria, expanded the fitness center and started planning a new student life and leadership center.

The increase in full-time students paying full-time tuition — usually for less-expensive general education courses — has helped offset the costs.

The rise in middle-class students seeking academic classes is good for low-income and career-tech students, writes Community College Dean. When the Great Recession raised enrollment, his college saw some displaced workers and many 18-year-olds who would have started at four-year colleges in better times.

The well-intended political leaders who are looking at cc’s as training centers should be careful what they wish for. The vocational programs we run are generally far more expensive to run than the classic liberal arts classes; they require specialized equipment and facilities, for starters, and the class sizes tend to run lower. A dirty little secret of higher ed finance is that certain disciplines – the chalk-and-talk liberal arts classes, mostly – subsidize higher-cost disciplines. All those full-to-the-brim psych classes help pay for the small and expensive nursing clinicals. Take away the psych classes, and the college’s per-student costs will skyrocket.

When privileged students demand the services that “real” colleges offer, then single moms will have access to those services too, the dean writes.

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