The Washington Post published an interesting item today regarding the growing appeal of career and technical education. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, nearly 8.5% of students currently enrolled at community colleges already have a bachelor’s degree. In other words, college graduates offer yet another option for increasing enrollment.
People who earn bachelor’s degrees tend to out-earn those who only earn an associate’s degree. However, an associate’s degree can put people into high-demand, high-wage jobs that don’t require a four-year credential. In many cases, high school graduates enter bachelor’s degree programs because they don’t know what else to do.
When they graduate, they may end up with a degree in a field they’re not interested in. Pursuing a second bachelor’s degree is expensive and time-consuming. A master’s degree commits them to working in a field they may not enjoy. And many bachelor’s degree holders already have significant student loan debt.
Students leaving high school may not know much about career and technical education. Or they simply may not know what really interests them. Some four-year degree holders want additional education in a specific area of study, so certificate programs appeal to them.
Regardless of their situation, these returning students are increasing enrollment at their local community colleges. Community colleges often allow these students to apply their previous credits to general education requirements. That reduces the number of classes these students must take to complete a degree program. It’s also a win for students who already have or are trying to avoid student loan debt.
Increasing enrollment requires work
If the AACC numbers apply to WCC, that means about 900-1,000 currently enrolled students already have a four-year degree. Taking the right approach to marketing two-year or certificate programs to university graduates could increase those numbers significantly. That would be an especially timely strategy if the pandemic significantly weakens the job market.
Low-wage earners who need help paying for college (or don’t know about financial aid), incarcerated individuals who are preparing for re-entry, and university graduates who are looking for high-demand, high-paying careers, all provide opportunities for increasing enrollment at WCC. These opportunities exist – in large numbers – inside the district. They also exist in adjacent counties that do not currently have a community college.
The only place they don’t seem to exist is in the minds of WCC administrators and Trustees who would rather take our educational resources and convert them into a hotel. People right here in Washtenaw County need educational opportunities exactly like the ones WCC offers. Misdirecting operating funds to speculative real estate deals robs these people of their chance to improve themselves. It diminishes their chance to contribute to the local economy. And it wastes community resources.
Increasing enrollment takes work and creativity to find these potential students and show them how WCC can help them achieve their goals. That is the precise reason taxpayers initially built WCC. If the current administration and the Board of Trustees no longer believe in WCC’s mission, or they somehow think that building hotel will make WCC a better community college, they should resign immediately.
Photo Credit: Illinois Springfield , via Flickr