How Community Colleges Provide Pathways to Diverse Career Opportunities

Thursday, May 16, 2024
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Although there are several ways to approach different career paths, many students graduating from high school are keen to go to college, explore their academic interests, learn new skills, and prepare for advanced career opportunities. That said, four-year degree programs aren’t the only option.

Over 40% of undergrad students are enrolled in community colleges. These institutions of higher learning have a lot to offer, including opportunities to save money, improve GPA, and achieve a higher SAT score. 

Students may eventually choose to enroll in a bachelor’s program at a university, having already completed two years of general education and possibly even prerequisite courses for a preferred major.

How else does community college provide students with opportunities to enter a diverse range of career paths?

Making College More Affordable and Accessible

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Attending a public four-year college in the U.S. currently costs $11,260 per year, on average, and that’s just for in-state tuition. Out-of-state tuition and the cost of attending a private university are much higher. On the other hand, community college tuition will set you back just $3,990 per year, on average.

This is a major savings for families struggling to make ends meet while sending students to college or for students paying their own way. Community colleges provide opportunities to complete an associate’s degree or work toward entering a four-year degree program with less expense, and there are even scholarship opportunities available to community college students.

By completing two years of general education in community college, students stand to save an average of $14,540 over attending a public college for four years. Community college also gives students the chance to explore topics they’re interested in while working toward qualifying for colleges or universities that were beyond their reach following high school.

Redesigning Developmental Sequences

There are many reasons students choose community college. For some, an associate’s degree is adequate to enter a chosen career. Others want to save money or stay close to home before enrolling in a four-year institution. However, some students also struggle with certain core subjects like math or English, leaving them unprepared for the rigors of a college curriculum.

This is where developmental courses at community colleges can help, and some schools are making strides toward streamlining developmental sequences. They’ve worked to improve placement accuracy so students start at the right level.

By assessing pain points that cause students to drop out partway through a track, they’ve developed solutions like compressing a sequence that takes two semesters into a single semester, accomplishing the same academic outcomes in less time. 

These advances help to get students on track to reach their goals, reducing attrition rates and preparing them for more advanced study.

Opportunities to Explore Different Career Paths

Even students who enter college with a chosen major may not know for sure what they want to do. College is often seen as a time of discovery when students try different hats to see what fits and learn what they like and are good at.

Community college provides an opportunity to explore a range of subjects, moving beyond core English, math, science, and social studies. Arts, sports, entertainment, social services, and trades may all be represented in the community college setting without the pressure to select a major common to four-year programs.

Major Study Prep

Students who already have a clear idea of the career paths they’re interested in can still progress in community college, fulfilling general education requirements and perhaps preparing to enter a specific major when transferring to a 4-year program. 

You’ll have to check the curriculum for different schools, but many are set up to feed into nearby college and university programs, which means they offer prerequisites for some of the most popular majors.

Filling the Skills Gap

Unemployment in the U.S. is currently low, but certain sectors suffer from a scarcity of qualified applicants. Those in skilled trades, from nurses and medical assistants to plumbers and electricians, are in high demand.

These professions offer opportunities to earn a good living and in some cases, own a business. However, students won’t necessarily find pathways to entering these fields through a four-year college or university.

Community colleges offer courses relating to skilled trades, helping students discover career prospects they might not otherwise consider. Schools that facilitate placement with local employers sweeten the deal for students and serve as partners for businesses within the community.

Opening Doors to Endless Career Paths

Every student has individual goals related to their education and career path. A four-year program isn’t the only option to proceed after high school. Students who choose community college have opportunities to improve their academic resumes and complete general education in preparation for transfer to a four-year program.

They can explore different subjects on their way to choosing a major or earning an associate’s degree and entering the workforce. Along the way, they can save money and stay close to home, all while enjoying access to a diverse array of potential career paths. Check out the NSHSS webinars for resources on this topic.