Is (Community) College Worth It? | Community Spirit
By G. Edward Hughes, President and CEO, Gateway Community and Technical College
One can scarcely open a newspaper, surf the web, or watch a news program these days without encountering this question: Is college worth it? Naysayers point to the rising cost of tuition, the growing level of student debt and persistent, high unemployment rates to argue that a college education doesn’t have the value it once did.
Instead of merely entering the debate, we need to reframe the question: Is a community college education of value? The facts about the value of graduating from a community college like Gateway are too important for any parent of a college-age student or any student paying his or her own way through school to overlook.
There is no escaping this fact: on average, the more you learn, the more you earn. The data overwhelmingly show that there is a direct correlation between personal earnings and the level of educational attainment. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) consistently reveal that people with postsecondary education have a lower unemployment rate and higher median weekly earnings than people with a high school education. Earning a credential like a certificate, diploma or degree makes a big difference. In addition, information from the Labor Department demonstrates that people with an associate degree or higher are more likely to be employed and earn higher wages than those who have some college but no degree.
This trend will continue for the foreseeable future. Today, even in the current economic climate, the DOL reports that unemployment rate for people with associate degrees is 6.8 percent, well under the average of 9.4 percent for high school graduates and 14.1 percent for high school dropouts. Looking ahead to 2020, job growth of 18 percent for associate degree graduates is expected to outpace the 12.2 percent growth in jobs for high school or GED graduates and even the 16.5 percent growth for jobs requiring bachelor’s degrees.
An associate degree delivers significant value from an earnings perspective as well. DOL statistics show the median annual wage in 2010 for a person with an associate degree was $61,560. That is 80 percent more than the average earnings of a high school graduate and just $2,000 a year shy of the median annual wage for those with a bachelor’s degree. But there is more to the value of a community college education.
Public community colleges like Gateway provide the best form of access to higher education. Our tuition rates are significantly lower than public four-year colleges and universities and dramatically lower than for-profit colleges. For example, Gateway’s tuition of $140 per credit hour is less than half the tuition cost of any public university in Kentucky, and a variety of scholarships and financial aid are available to help offset that cost. Plus, credits earned at regionally accredited colleges like Gateway transfer to four-year universities. In Kentucky, our credits transfer to public universities by law. Many independent institutions, like Thomas More College, as well as public ones, such as Northern Kentucky University, offer Gateway graduates significant scholarships to transfer and complete a degree. By going to Gateway for two years and completing an associate’s degree, students can save 40 percent or more of the total cost of a four-year degree! So if you want a college degree without much debt, with highly qualified faculty in small classes, enroll at colleges like Gateway for the first two years, obtain an associate’s degree and then transfer.
Is community college worth it? The answer is a resounding yes. At Gateway, we know that education truly does pay, and we would be delighted to show you how.
For more information about Gateway, including financial aid opportunities, visit www.gateway.kctcs.edu or call 859-441-4500.