Higher Education Pays: But a Lot More for Some Graduates Than for Others concludes a Lumina-funded report by Dr. Mark Schneider, the president of College Measures. “What you study matters more than where you study,” says Schneider, a vice president at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). Learning technical and occupational skills pays off, even for graduates of low-prestige colleges and universities. A music, photography or creative writing graduate from a prestige university will struggle.
Schneider analyzed first-year earnings of graduates of two-year and four-year colleges in Arkansas, Colorado, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
Some short-term credentials, including occupational associate’s degrees and certificates, are worth as much or more than bachelor’s degrees, the study found. For example, Texans with technical associate’s degrees averaged more than $11,000 more than four-year graduates in their first year in the workforce.
Certificates that require one or two years of study may raise earnings as much as an associate degree, especially a transfer-oriented degree.
In Texas, certificate holders earned almost $15,000 more on average than graduates with academic associate’s degrees, but about $15,000 less than graduates with technical associate’s degrees.
Not surprisingly engineering degrees have the biggest payoff, followed by nursing and other health-related fields. What is a surprise is the weak demand for biology and chemistry graduates. ”The S in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is oversold,” the report found.
Despite the clamoring for more students to focus on STEM, the labor market shows less demand for science skills. Employers are paying more, often far more, for graduates with degrees in technology, engineering and math. There is no evidence that Biology or Chemistry majors earn a premium wage, compared with engineers, computer/information science or math majors. The labor market returns for science are similar to those of the liberal arts, like English Language and Literature.
Women now make up a majority of biology graduates and about half of chemistry majors.
“Prospective students need sound information about where their educational choices are likely to lead” before they go into debt, the report concludes.
Slightly fewer four-year graduates in 2010 enrolled in a community college within two years, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The number dropped from 6.5 percent for 2009 graduates to 6.1 percent, perhaps because of improving economic conditions.
More than 14 percent of biology and biomedical graduates enrolled in community colleges, probably to study for a nursing degree.
“There was a lot of speculation during the Great Recession about humanities majors, who couldn’t find jobs with their bachelors’ degrees, flocking to community colleges to learn computer networking,” stated Dr. Doug Shapiro, Executive Director of the Research Center. “Our student-level data shows that the reality was a slight uptick in some fields, layered on top of longer-term trends. As we pull out of the recession, the numbers are starting to trend back down.”
One in four community college students has earned a postsecondary credential already, says Christopher Mullin, program director for policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).
Four-year college students are using online community college courses to finish their degrees, according to U.S. News.
In 2005, Stanley Hicks enrolled at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis to study electrical engineering while keeping his day job. After eight years, he’s finishing his four-year degree though online courses at Indiana’s Ivy Tech Community College. ”At IUPUI some classes, with fees, are 1,200 bucks,” says Hicks. “At Ivy Tech, the same class is $400.”
Online courses make it easier to juggle work and school, he says.
Hicks, who will end up taking six courses at Ivy Tech before he graduates, says his classes at the two institutions were more or less the same in terms of quality. For financially stressed students, he says taking online community college courses is a great option.
“There seems to be no ‘hidden’ fees at Ivy Tech,” says Hicks. “I also like the smaller class sizes and you seem to get better one-on-one assistance from the professors if needed.”
The number of four-year students taking online courses doubled in the last year at Ivy Tech.
Arizona’s Glendale Community College also is seeing more online students pursuing bachelor’s degrees, says Tressa Jumps, the school’s director of marketing.
Jumps says many of the guest students at Glendale are taking courses covering subjects they have struggled with in the past or are taking a challenging course over the summer so they can devote more time to it. Taking an online community college course gives them the chance to be in a smaller class, and in the case of Glendale, benefit from free tutoring, she says.
However, students need to make sure that credits earned online through community colleges will be accepted by their four-year institution.
Colorado university leaders are fighting a bill that would let community colleges offer bachelor’s degrees in vocational fields, reports the Boulder Daily Camera. In a letter to the General Assembly, seven state university presidents argued the proposal would divert scarce state funding, cause overlaps in missions and produce a degree with low value in the workforce.
Nancy McCallin, president of the Colorado Community College System, said there’s demand for four-year degrees in areas such as culinary arts and dental hygienists. At Front Range Community College, she envisions offering a bachelor’s degree in “geographic information systems,” technical training required to build GPS systems.
Two-thirds of the state’s 163,000 community college students work to put themselves through college, McCallin said. Many can’t afford to uproot their families or leave the farms they work on in rural Colorado to transfer to a four-year institution. Offering four-year degrees, she said, would extend educational opportunities to those types of students — not draw students away from other colleges.
The bill would let community colleges offer up to 10 degree programs only in technical and career programs. State officials would decide if a proposal overlaps with programs already offered at four-year colleges.
Colorado University has been working with community colleges to streamline the transfer process in 14 degree tracks, the Daily Camera notes. Community college students who earn 30 credit hours and at least a 2.7 grade-point average are guaranteed admission as transfers.
CU Regent Stephen Ludwig, who attended two community colleges before transferring to CU’s Colorado Springs campus, said state universities could use technology to enable students with associate degrees to earn a bachelor’s degree without relocating.
Recent graduates with a technical or vocational associate degree average higher earnings than four-year graduates in three states analyzed by CollegeMeasures. In Virginia, the average technical associate degree graduate earned $49,000 a year between 2006 and 2010.
Community college degrees “are worth a lot more than I expected and that I think other people expected,” said Mark Schneider, president of CollegeMeasures and a vice president at the American Institutes for Research.
The job news gets even better for two-year graduates, reports Forbes.
This on the heels of stats from the Department of Labor from the fall that showed job growth for those with associate’s degrees was outpacing that of more advanced degree holders. The good news doesn’t stop there; the majority of the fastest growing occupations in the US, from dental hygienists to veterinary technologists, require only a community college education.
In 2010 – 2011, the average community college student paid $2713 in tuition and received, on average, $1700 in Pell Grant aid, Forbes notes. Most community college students don’t borrow to complete an associate degree and those who do don’t need to go heavily in debt.
Michigan community colleges will offer bachelor’s degrees in specified vocational fields, under legislation signed by Gov. Rick Snyder. The bill covers four-year degrees in cement technology, maritime technology, energy production technology and culinary arts. Nursing was cut out of the bill in a compromise to overcome opposition from state universities.
“The University Of Phoenix plans to roll out more than 100 new partnerships with community colleges in the coming year,” reports the Huffington Post. The nation’s largest for-profit university will offer bachelor’s degree programs to two-year graduates, gaining students who are more likely to graduate and repay their student loans.
Partnerships with community colleges in Virginia and Arizona have been announced. More are coming, said spokesman Ryan Rauzon, including several in California.
Under increasing regulatory scrutiny, the University of Phoenix has seen enrollment drop precipitously from a peak near 500,000 to 320,000.
Community colleges and for-profit schools typically serve the same working, non-traditional student demographic. They “divide up the market,” explained Dr. Anthony Carnevale, an education expert from Georgetown University.
And as increased demand for bachelor’s degrees is driving many four-year public and non-profit private institutions to become more selective, it is unsurprising that community colleges seeking to build new programs would find an eager partner in for-profits like the University of Phoenix, Carnevale pointed out.
“It’s a fairly obvious deal,” he said. “It’s kind of a wide open market space at the moment.”
The new partnerships will expand on articulation agreements already in place that help community college graduates transfer their credits to a bachelor’s degree program, say executives at Apollo Group, which owns the University of Phoenix.
When community colleges in Arizona wanted to offer their own bachelor’s degrees, the University of Phoenix lobbied against the low-cost degrees. The for-profit giant “provided research and political muscle for a multi-year lobbying campaign,” reports Sarah Pavlus in the American Independent.
Hispanics’ college enrollment is surging, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Forty-six percent of Hispanic high school graduates 18 to 24 years old enrolled in college — usually community college. That equals black enrollment and is closing in on young whites at 51 percent. Asian-Americans, with 67 percent in college, lead the pack.
Hispanic students also are much more likely to complete high school.
In the 1990s, fewer than 60 percent of Hispanics 18 to 24 had a high school diploma, but that figure hit 70 percent for the first time in 2009, and 76 percent last year.
That high school completion rate, however, still remains below the national rate of 85 percent (81 percent for blacks), limiting the number of Hispanics who are eligible for college.
Hispanics make up about 16.5 percent of all college students, but 25.2 percent of community college students. Graduation rates are low: In 2010, Hispanics made up 13.2 percent of those earning an associate degree and 8.5 percent of those earning a bachelor’s degree.
California’s two-year for-profit colleges have higher graduation rates than community colleges, reports the Orange County Register, which analyzed data compiled by the Chronicle of Higher Education. As in other states, students seeking bachelor’s degrees were much less likely to graduate at four-year for-profit institutions.
California spends $10 billion a year on ccommunity colleges, which enroll 2.6 million students.
Nationwide, for-profit schools receive $32 billion in federal student loans and grants, according to a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions investigation.
In California, only one-quarter of degree-seeking students graduate from community colleges in three years, compared to nearly two-thirds of for-profit students seeking a two-year degree or certificate.
East San Gabriel Valley Regional Occupational Program, a job training center, had the highest graduation rate of any public two-year program: 38.2 percent complete a credential in two years and 93.4 percent in three years.
College of the Redwoods in the rural north posts the lowest graduation rate: 4.7 percent in two years and 5.8 percent in three.
Michigan’s community colleges want to award four-year degrees, reports the Lansing State Journal.
Northwestern Michigan College is the only school in Michigan that can count a 224-foot former Navy submarine surveillance ship among its classroom facilities.
The Traverse City community college is home to the only federally chartered maritime academy on fresh water and the only one that can’t offer its students the four-year degrees they need to sit for the U.S. Coast Guard licensing exam for commercial shipping officers.
The college’s imperfect solution is a partnership with Ferris State University that allows cadets to get a business degree but requires them to take 145 credits to finish both the nautical and financial portions of their education, rather than the 120 typical for a bachelor’s degree.
Community college leaders support a bill that would let two-year schools offer four-year degrees in five fields. However, state universities are opposing the proposed legislation.