When it comes to higher education, we’ve all heard the talking point: More people than ever are pursuing four-year degrees. At the same time, college has never been more expensive. Students pay the skyrocketing tuition costs because they don’t have many other choices if they want to be competitive in the workforce. Now, researchers are suggesting there may be another legitimate option: community college.
Analyzing data from more than 20,000 students who attended Washington state’s 34 community and technical colleges, researchers from Columbia University and the Career Ladders Project in Oakland, California, found that over a seven-year span, long-term certificates, which take more than a year to complete, and associate’s degrees lead to better employment odds and higher wages — sometimes even more so than bachelor’s degrees.
Until now, there has been scarce research on community colleges, leading to the assumption that they’re less valuable than they really are, says Mina Dadgar, one of the study’s lead authors and director of research at the Career Ladders Project. It’s in part because many associate’s degrees, particularly in humanities, are meant only to get students in the door at four-year colleges, so they aren’t useful by standard measures. But it turns out health care, technology and skilled labor are just a few of the sectors that students with community college credentials can make their way into and immediately start making salaries above $50,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor.