Monday, January 19, 2009

Community College

Today the Cincinnati Enquirer ran an article about students focusing more on job skills, increasing interest in programs offered at community colleges such as Cincinnati State. Students are interested in getting the skills they need for jobs and not additional spending time on coursework that does not relate to the job.

Students in today’s market may not be able to spend the time or finances to earn a four-degree program. Or students may already possess a bachelor’s degree are a looking to only to complete the necessary coursework to meet the qualifications to enter a new career field.

For the current academic year, Cincinnati State charges $80 per credit hour, which means a typical two-year degree would cost around $9,000. According the article, a student at UC spends approximately $3,100 per term on the main campus that equates to around $36,000 for a bachelor’s degree. It is surprising how few people realize the cost savings by taking the first two years of classes at a community college. English, chemistry, physics, biology, math and language courses taken at a community college are transferable to a university.

As a faculty member at a community college, the interest in improving job skills is good news. Community colleges are more flexible in their course catalogs and can offer certificates as well as degree programs tailored to meet the local job market. Some certificate programs can be completed in as little as six months, while others take 9-12 months to complete. Employers benefit from this quick turnaround with large pool of qualified employees. Employers can use these programs to improve the skills of their current employees. They can also benefit by having their experts teach as adjunct faculty.

The down side is two years does not afford as much diversity in subject matter as in bachelor’s program. Students focusing only on courses related to their future job may be expedient but it can also be miss some of the essentials. For instance, a common lament I hear amongst my fellow faculty is the need for critical thinking skills. These skills, in my opinion, aren’t taught in a single course but learned through duration of earning a degree. Chemistry, math, and philosophy all balance the student’s ability to analyze information understanding not only where it came from but also its implications for the future.

The high cost of completing a bachelor’s degree is one reason for this. The other is the diminished value perceived by some students. Many of today’s jobless have advance degrees but still found themselves unemployed when the economy forced elimination of their positions. I’m concerned that some students may take away from this that earning their bachelor’s or master’s is unnecessary. They may miss the importance of earning these degrees are not so much in the completion as it is in the journey.

I have never directly used either my bachelor’s or master’s degree. However, I have always used the experience gained in achieving these degrees. Having some additional letter behind my name has also helped in getting my resume past the HR staff and into the hands of those who understand my skills.

The real future I see for community colleges is to take those unemployed workers with bachelors and master’s degrees and giving them new skills or certifications to be hired. The journey can’t be taken alone by the community colleges; employers need to be involved as well. Most degree programs have representatives from the field sitting on their advisory councils. The advisory councils establish the needed communication between the academic world and the field.

Community colleges are simply about technical training. They offer students a cost-effective way of earning job skills as well as a college degree. Community colleges also provide local employers with a pool of qualified applicants with relevant skills to fill their jobs.

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