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Honesty goes a long way toward selling a community college degree

I read a recent interview published in Time Magazine with Beverly Walker-Griffea, who is the president of Mott Community College in Flint. The interview raised once again the need for transparency when talking about how much money one can make with a community college degree.

In the interview, Walker-Griffea stated:

“In this economy, employers need a talented workforce now, and the community college can skill-up individuals quickly and get them into jobs immediately. Mott Community College has several programs where students can spend a few weeks in training and land jobs making as much as $60,000 a year, like dental assisting, sterile processing technician, and electrical line worker. “

Unfortunately, Dr. Walker-Griffea grossly over-simplified the amount of time and effort required to train for the jobs she listed.

At Mott Community College, for example, the dental assisting community college degree program requires the student to complete seventy credits over six semesters. Mott’s certificate program in dental assisting requires the student to complete 52 hours over four semesters. In Michigan, the average hourly pay rate for a dental assistant is $18.50, which when annualized, represents a salary of $38,350. So, acquiring the training for a dental assisting position is neither quick nor as profitable as Dr. Walker-Griffea indicated.

Community college degree requires more than a few weeks’ effort

Similarly, the requirements for a sterile processing technician certification differ from what Dr. Walker-Griffea described. In addition to a multi-week classroom-based course, the student must log an additional four hundred hours in a hospital and successfully pass both provisional and permanent professional licensure exams.

An electrical line worker is a member of the skilled trades. In addition to classroom training (which could last 15 weeks), an electrical lineman works as an apprentice for 6,000-8,000 hours (3-4 years) before becoming fully qualified to work on high voltage lines. The pay is great – often $125,000 -$150,000. But it is not a job (or a salary) anyone will be slipping into with a few weeks of training.

WCC does the same thing on its website with its career pathways. It is not acceptable to misrepresent the effort, time and money a student must invest to complete certain high-wage job programs. Nor is it acceptable to misrepresent the prospective salary. In WCC’s case, its website features jobs that a community college degree does not qualify the student for, and salaries that are not attainable by a person with an associate degree or certificate. Nowhere does the WCC website mention the (sometimes substantial) additional education, training and experience required to qualify for the featured positions.

Reducing this effort to a “few weeks” is a huge disservice to the students. They will find out at some point about all the extra education, on-the-job training, certification exams, continuing education, the actual salary for the position, etc.

The few examples listed by Dr. Walker-Griffea do not change the fact that many community college degree and certificate programs do not allow students to make a living wage. Until community colleges address that issue, continued dishonesty is unlikely to attract future students.

Photo Credit: Kristina Cortez , via Flickr