Skip to main content
Main Content

Community Colleges Challenge Common Beliefs About Higher Education

Posted on January 15, 2024 at 8:00 AM by Emily Shields

There are several prevalent national narratives about higher education right now. Many believe it has become too expensive due to administrative bloat and excess. Others see colleges as places for ideological homogeny rather than environments encouraging debate and diversity of thought. Still others question whether there is even value to college at all. Every time I hear one of these stories, I experience the same frustration. They tend to focus heavily on elite institutions and almost exclusively on four-year colleges and universities. Despite enrolling 41% of all undergraduates nationwide, community colleges are rarely mentioned.

This neglect is particularly detrimental because community colleges are far outside of the beliefs above and these narratives are increasingly impacting the choices people make about their educational path. Many Americans are now less confident in higher education than they used to be, despite the fact that by 2027, 70 percent of all jobs in the United Sates will require education or training beyond high school. Let’s take these beliefs one by one and compare them to the reality of community college.

Belief #1: Higher education is too expensive

Attending college now costs 64% more than it did 20 years ago. This is a true and shocking statistic that overwhelms many families. It is, however, not the full picture. While Community college costs have also risen during that timeframe, it is by as much (59%) and are still far less than four-year colleges. The national average of community colleges is about $3,700 per year compared to $16,000 at four-year colleges. Community college students also tend to borrow less in student loans and are often eligible for financial aid.

Belief #2: Colleges don’t encourage diverse thought

Activities at colleges and universities have frequently taken center stage in political debates about race and other hot-button issues. National news outlets cover protests, speaker controversies, and other stories that make it seem like colleges are a place where only certain ideas are accepted. Community colleges are some of the most diverse spaces in American life today in terms of race, ethnicity, age, viewpoint, family status, and more. A community college classroom is a great place to meet and listen to people from a variety of backgrounds and circumstances.

Belief #3: College is no longer worth the cost

The above two beliefs, among others, have led some to conclude that colleges are not worth the expense and don’t provide degrees of true value in today’s economy. More and more, people believe that college is not necessary for everyone; but, generally, they mean that four-year degrees are not necessary. And while they may be right about that, I would offer that college is for everyone and everyone needs training and education beyond high school. At community colleges, we reframe what that means, offering far more than degrees. Community colleges now offer a wide variety of credentials, certifications, and other forms of learning and validating. Degrees are still important, but we must change our mindset about what counts as college before writing it off completely.

In 2024, I hope to see more positive news coverage of higher education, but more importantly, I hope to see more discourse that recognizes the wide spectrum of what it means to get a college education.

Tagged As: Career Pathways

There are no comments yet.
Add Comment

* Indicates a required field

© 2024 Community Colleges for Iowa. All rights reserved.