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Now is the time to commit to technical education degrees

As of today, WCC’s occupational education labs and classrooms remain closed. For many of these programs, soldiering on isn’t possible right now. It would be easy to focus the College’s time and resources on the classes that it can deliver online. As I wrote about yesterday, Rose Bellanca made a commitment to teaching and investing in these courses. It would be a horrendous mistake not to make the same commitment to WCC’s technical education degrees.

These programs – the ones that put people into jobs quickly – will be in high demand when in-person classes can safely resume. The administration should be making plans to invest in those programs and their associated facilities. This holds true even if the faculty cannot adapt those courses to online delivery.

The WCC Board of Trustees must ensure that the administration does not co-opt WCC to focus primarily on supporting students seeking four-year degrees. The community college can certainly provide a solid foundation for further studies. However, the Board must ensure that WCC remains committed to its technical education degrees.

In 2019, WCC awarded about 6% more non-occupational degrees and certificates than occupational ones. When you look more closely at the numbers, however, WCC awarded 60% more Associate Degrees to occupational program students. That’s significant.

Technical education degrees hold more value for students

A 2017 study conducted by Third Way, a Washington, DC public policy group, found that many students who earned a 1-year certificate derived no financial benefit from their credential.

They did, however, acquire debt.

Twenty percent of students who earned a certificate actually earned less than a high school graduate as much as six years after earning the certificate. Worse, nearly 80% of certificate holders who borrowed to pay for their studies were not earning enough to begin repaying their student loans three years after graduating.

The issuers derived substantial benefit from issuing certificates, however. Certainly, they collected significant revenues and fees from tuition. Perhaps more importantly, the issuers could report to their respective states that they had awarded a credential to a student.

As a matter of public policy, issuing potentially worthless certificates instead of valuable degrees during a pandemic-induced recession is unconscionable.

Simply put, occupational students seek degrees. It’s not clear that certificate programs offer enough value to the holder to make them worth the time and effort it takes to earn them. And if a certificate doesn’t increase a worker’s earnings, that means employers don’t value them.

Following a recession, the community needs workforce-ready graduates with skills employers recognize as valuable. By itself, that is reason enough to commit to finding ways to deliver occupational education to students seeking technical education degrees effectively during the pandemic.

Photo Credit: raymondclarkeimages , via Flickr