May 30, 2014 by Emsi Burning Glass
Some students use community college as a springboard to a bachelor’s degree or beyond. Others attend community college because they have a specific career in mind, and a short-term certificate or two-year degree is the immediate pathway to landing that job.
Either option — transferring to a four-year school or plunging directly into the workplace — can make sense depending on students’ short- and long-term goals. But they have different labor market payoffs, as new data published by The New York Times shows.
Community college graduates with a vocational focus had an unemployment rate of 4% in April, nearly a full percentage point lower than community college graduates who obtained academic degrees with the intent to transfer to a four-year college, according to the BLS. And those with some college, no degree had a significantly higher jobless rate than holders of either type of two-year degree — 6.6%.
The low unemployment for Americans with occupational community college degrees, as the BLS labels them, suggests many of the associated professions (dental hygienists, geologic and petroleum technicians, etc.) are healthy and growing. Yet even with a higher unemployment rate (4.8% compared to 4%), an academic two-year degree can also be a sound investment.
Regardless of the path, these numbers reinforce the importance of degree completion. Roughly 40% of first-time, full-time students at community colleges graduate or transfer within three years.
“The most valuable aspect of a two-year academic degree,” David Leonhardt of the Times writes, “is the path it can provide to a four-year degree. The jobless rate for people with bachelor’s degrees is even lower: 3.1 percent. And the pay of people with four-year degrees has fared better over the past decade than the pay of people with two-year degrees.”
Regardless of the path, these numbers reinforce the importance of degree completion. Roughly 40% of first-time, full-time students at community colleges graduate or transfer within three years, according to Katherine Long of The Seattle Times.
As Long notes, the completion rate in Washington State is higher (47%) than the national average. At Walla Walla Community College — co-recipient of the 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence — it’s 56%.
One of keys to WWCC’s success: pushing students to make a decision on their educational pathway sooner than later. To help students decide, the college displays EMSI’s Career Coach on its home page — one of several software tools that WWCC employs to improve student success. Career Coach gives students local data on wages, growth, and openings for any career they choose and links each career to related degrees and certificates at WWCC.
“We pressure students pretty firmly: If you don’t know what pathway you want to select, you can’t float around very long without making that decision,” Wendy Samitore, WWCC’s VP of student services, told The Seattle Times. “The fewer choices you give, the less confusing — and the better it is for students.”
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