Historically, a four-year degree was the recommendation for those who wanted to find gainful employment directly after graduation. However, that tide appears to be changing, as more employers are looking to community colleges to provide the qualified workforce they require. With less time to earn a degree and less debt once the college experience is over, many students have been turning to community college as a means of gaining a higher education that leads to a lucrative career. Now, statistics from the Labor Department appear to support that choice, showing that jobs after graduation from community college also appear to be on the rise.
What the Numbers Show
According to USA Today, the latest numbers from the Labor Department show a rise in employment for those with an associate degree – up 578,000 over the past six months. This brings the grand total of employed Americans with an associate degree to around 35.2 million. During the same time period, employment growth for those with a bachelor degree increased 314,000, bringing the grand total of employed Americans with a four-year degree to 46.5 million. Although more four-year graduates are still found in the workforce, the significant increase in workers with an associate degree suggests a distinct trend toward a two-year degree to increase competitiveness in today’s workforce.
These numbers are particularly interesting in light of the recent recession, which saw employment for those with a high school diploma plummet, while workers with a minimum of a four-year degree remained relatively stable. The recent growth in employment for employees with associate degrees suggests that as economic conditions stabilize, the market for mid-level skills is improving. Some of the industries enjoying growth today include advanced manufacturing, mid-level management and a number of healthcare occupations.
While employment and education experts agree this trend may not completely eliminate the perceived difference between a two and four-year degree, the numbers do indicate the disparity is narrowing. Now, many community college graduates are finding good jobs that pay sufficient incomes to support a family. In addition, these graduates are typically entering the workforce with significantly less debt, which makes their financial situation right after graduation that much more stable.
The Focus on Community College
The number of students seeking higher education from community colleges has also been on the rise in recent years, thanks to the economic slowdown and a focus on the benefits of community college education by the current administration. President Barack Obama has set a national goal for community colleges to graduate five million more students by the year 2020. To that end, the White House has provided additional support to community colleges to beef up training programs and partnerships with the workforce in their regions.
According to the White House website, President Obama has introduced the American Graduation Initiative, which is designed to invest in both community colleges and the American worker. The initiative provides approximately $2 billion in funding over four years for community colleges and career training. Schools can use the resources they receive from this initiative for the following:
- Provide for basic skills with improvement in remedial and adult education programs
- Meet the needs of community college students to improve completion rates
- Create partnerships with other colleges to improve transferability between schools
- Create partnerships with local businesses to provide more effective training for in-demand fields
- Develop online education options to cater to the unique needs of a diverse community college student body
As funding has been distributed, statistics like these recent numbers from the Labor Department show that the initiative may be providing the desired results. With more students taking advantage of the low-cost education opportunities community colleges provide, these schools are also answering the call to offer practical education and job training students can take with them to further their education or move into well-paying jobs.
More Positive News for Community Colleges
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also indicates community colleges should enjoy a positive outlook throughout 2020. According to this office, employment for those with an associate degree is predicted to increase by 18 percent between 2010 and 2020. During the same time frame, employment for those with a bachelor degree is expected to increase by 17 percent. Some of the top-growing positions in the U.S. at this time, including veterinary technicians, diagnostic medical sonographers and occupational therapy assistants.
In addition to predictions by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a number of publications have released some of the highest-paying jobs available with an associate degree today. These reports have also shifted the focus to the benefits of a community college education, which has been good news for the schools, as well as the industries looking for highly skilled workers to fill their positions. As more students tune into the potential available with a community college degree, more businesses can get those in-demand positions filled faster.
According to Business Insider, some of the top-paying positions that require an associate degree include:
- Electrical Technicians (average annual salary: $56,040)
- Aerospace Technicians (average annual salary: $58,080)
- Registered Nurses (average annual salary: $64,690)
- Dental Hygienists (average annual salary: $68,250)
- Radiation Therapists (average annual salary: $74,980)
- Construction Managers (average annual salary: $83,860)
- Air Traffic Controllers (average annual salary: $108,040)
Gone are the days where a bachelor degree was the sole requirement for landing a well-paying job with room for advancement. Today, community colleges are offering training in a wealth of in-demand industries with good pay and advancement potential. With more jobs going to community college graduates, it is no wonder so many are considering this education path to a rewarding career.