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Millennials see shortcomings of community colleges

According to New York Federal Reserve data, Millennials accumulated nearly $4T in personal debt in the last quarter of 2022. That represents the largest accumulation of debt by any current generation, and the fastest accumulation of debt by any generation since the Great Recession. That’s not great news for community colleges.

The cost of living for the up-and-coming “sandwich generation” means that their need for income outstrips the earning ability of most community college degrees. In other words, adults between the ages of 27 and 42 who may be looking for a career upgrade will not likely be using their local community colleges as a resource.

Salaries associated with most jobs that require a two-year degree haven’t kept pace with the cost of living, so they don’t represent a real opportunity to get ahead. As Millennials struggle with the cost of housing, transportation, childcare, health care and other basic needs, they’re finding fewer opportunities to increase their income by retraining for a new career.

According to the data, Millennials are also experiencing rising rates of credit card and auto loan defaults. This has implications for other generations. Millennials who can’t pay their auto loans and credit card debts also can’t pay off student loans or buy houses. Older Americans can’t rely on Millennials as buyers when it comes time to sell their homes. Without being able to extract the equity from their homes, older Americans may find their retirement plans in jeopardy.

The reality is that technical and occupational programs at community colleges have simply not kept pace with the income needs of younger adults. It’s not hard to figure out why community college classrooms grow increasingly empty.

It raises the question of who is responsible for keeping course offerings and programs strategically up-to-date, doesn’t it?

Community colleges need to retool their academic offerings

Well-funded community colleges should offer an exceptional range of occupational and technical programs, alongside transferrable general education courses. Community colleges with generous community funding should be able to maintain high-quality educational facilities and identify economic development opportunities that enable their graduates to generate enough income to live in their communities.

So many community colleges do not – for whatever reason – have adequate funding to meet the changing educational needs of their students. They cannot create economic opportunities for the people who live in the communities they serve.

It’s disappointing to see a growing number of adult learners look past community colleges because the institutions have not maintained their commitment to their mission. The available academic programs do not lead to living wage employment and cannot help lift people out of poverty.

A community that provides adequate funding to its community college has the right to expect innovative degree programs that lead to high-wage jobs. It has the right to expect well-maintained facilities and leadership that focuses on the educational mission of the college. In short, it has the right to expect a high return on its investment.

Photo Credit: Tom Woodward , via Flickr