Guest Post – The Value of Higher Education: A Millennial Perspective

A few weeks ago the DC Public Education Fund hosted a young professionals event, with a trivia contest.  I guest hosted the trivia and one of the prizes was a chance to get guest posted here on Eduwonk. So here is a word from one of the winners:

By Tarsi Dunlop, Aaron Goldstein, Jeff Raines & Kevin Suyo

The mainstream conversation around higher education tends to focus on traditional four-year institutions, while community colleges are more likely to be mentioned just in passing. In the United States, many consider education to be a key component of increased social and economic mobility.  As Millennials, we believe that everyone should be encouraged to reach their fullest potential when it comes to post-secondary education. Simultaneously, we value access to, and the opportunity for, higher education because we believe that no single path suits the vast diversity of individual circumstances in the 21st Century. Community colleges are an integral part of the education narrative and they deserve a more balanced assessment than the label of “last resort.”

Community colleges, as post-secondary institutions, frequently enroll students who might not otherwise continue on to higher education. They are lower in cost, less strenuous in entry requirements, and more flexible with timing requirements. These characteristics better suit the student population they serve: diverse in age and race, older, more likely to enroll part time, and more likely to be first generation college students. Resulting economic payoffs include such as increased salary, connections to local communities and better job opportunities, especially when community colleges provide an affordable way to gain job training for targeted STEM careers where job growth is projected to grow by 17% before 2018.  Critics of community colleges point to low graduation rates; the low number of students who move on to a four-year institution and complete a degree; and the persistent salary gap between those who attained an associate’s degree prior to their bachelor’s and those who earned their bachelor’s without a prior associate degree. These are valid concerns that warrant discussion, additional research and proposed solutions; they should not be used as reasons to ignore community colleges and their valuable contributions.

At a time of high unemployment and general economic hardship, community colleges are a valuable resource for those seeking additional training or a career change. New Jersey is a unique example of collaboration between community colleges and the state. The Consortium of Economic and Workforce Development was founded in 2004 by the state’s community colleges; it brings together their combined resources into a singular education and training hub for businesses and industries. An Executive Order, signed in 2003, created the New Jersey Community College Compact, which forms the basis of this partnership and establishes the 19 community colleges as preferred venue for workforce development and training that is vital for New Jersey’s economic health and growth.

Young people today face a number of difficult choices when it comes to higher education. Statistics cannot always capture nuance, but they are telling: the average graduate has $25,000 in student loan debt, topping cumulative credit card debt for the first time; Almost 6 million 25-to-34-year-olds live at home, an increase of 26 percent since the recession began in 2007; and 28% of 18-24 year olds and 16% of 24-35 year olds are underemployed. Students do receive scholarships, get financial aid, and some have families that are able to finance their college education. And yes, some will find full-time work, in their field of interest, upon graduation that will enable them to manage their accumulated debt. While potential earnings range, from an estimated $500,000 more for someone with a bachelor’s degree compared to someone who graduates with a high school diploma, to 5 to 8% for each year of community college completed, one can make the argument for higher education. Given these realities, President Obama’s recent community college initiative is timely and the Millennial Generation should be aware of the ways in which community colleges can support their pursuits and ambitions.

Given the current economic uncertainty today, and the challenges facing America’s middle class, community colleges offer an additional choice that does not have to limit an individual’s future opportunities. No institution of higher education can meet all the unique needs of college age students, or adults returning to school. We are a country that values individual success, in which education often plays a key role. As Millennials, we value individual ambition and achievement while recognizing no ‘one solution fits all.’ Therefore, we also advocate for community colleges as an attractive option, whether for students who are unable to attend a traditional institution or for adult students wishing to change professions or enhance their professional skills. Easily adaptable to real life circumstances, community colleges have a unique role in education; as such, they certainly can and should be part of the debate.

Aaron Goldstein is a graduating senior at American University and DC-International Regional Coordinator for the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network. Kevin Suyo works on higher education financing issues at the U.S. Department of Education. Tarsi Dunlop works at the Learning First Alliance and is the former Director of Operations for the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network.Jeffrey Raines is the President of the American University chapter of the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network.

10 Replies to “Guest Post – The Value of Higher Education: A Millennial Perspective”

  1. $50K in debt with a degree in English, Journalism, Education, or Public Policy equals indentured servitude.

    Rotherham’s koolaid drinking dedication to higher ed is insulting to those of us who have actually worked in our lives.

    I would not expect an elite like him to know that a high school student proficient in Pre-Calculus and physics could be a nuke submariners and make more money than he does and have more self and public respect.

    Thought experiment. Walk into ANY party and say you are retired Navy, held command of a war fighting vessels, and lead young men and women. Regardless of the political leanings, you will have interested people and good questions.

    Next, tell them you are an education policy expert. Man the punch bowl. When R and his posse took up this fight they covered themselves in the filth of politics.

    Edu-policy is NOT about doing or producing anything. It is about an inane, continuous, irritating to the core, yammering about entirely meaningless stuff.

    The nuclear Navy performed because we choose ONLY the best, and we fire those, in a heart beat, who do not measure up. We do not change and mold the lives of troubled teenagers. We bilge pump them.

    Want to be happy in this life, respected, and have a solid foundation? Study math and science and then do something with it.

    God forbid you study journalism or edu-policy.

    Do something. Make something.

  2. Opportunity cost.

    What could we do in LOCAL school districts with money dedicated to teacher accountability measures.

    Parents, come up with your dream list and then hold it up against how that money is being used right now.

    Make YOUR choices.

    I want the money BACK in classrooms for physics labs.

    I want to starve the federal edu-reform beast and the think tanks.

    Opt out of testing. Take a day off from work and take your child to the museum, or give them a private tutoring lesson with a real scientist or mathematician.

    Wouldn’t that have a more beneficial and long term impact on your child? Wouldn’t that make your child intellectually inquisitive, curious about how things work, and perhaps see some connections to what they are learning in school.

    Or you could do what Rotherham and his posse recommend. Have your child sit their for hours on their butts darkening bubbles and being bored to complete death.

    How does edu-reform help your child RIGHT NOW? Not tomorrow. Right now?

    Do the right thing. OPT OUT OF TESTING.

  3. Bill: I agree with you that money being spent on teacher accountability measures (including those pushed on the states by Obama’s RttT) would be better spent on the classrooms: supplies, lower class sizes, better teacher pay. I can’t believe the public is accepting the amount of money being spent on testing students (and ‘rating’ their teachers) these days. What a waste.

  4. Let me start by saying this was supposed to be our entry. We (UELIPs) won the trivia that night!!

    That being said, I agree that community colleges offer a great alternative to immediate entry into four-year institutions and certainly deserve greater attention and prominence in the higher ed discussion. Great post!

  5. If you’re going to pay more than $20k a year for a college degree, it better be from a top college (ranked in the top 100) or else you’re better off going to a community college. Most companies care about academic pedigree, so before you make an investment in higher education, look at the ROI and figure out which type of college will give you the highest return.

  6. Attorney: I doubt most of the public knows squat about where the money is going, um, being wasted. And let’s not forget the dozens of “non-profits” now engaged to astroturf the business model of education reform.

  7. J. Miller: What you say is, unfortunately, probably true: Those in the public who aren’t personally involved with schools or teaching probably have no idea what’s going on — they’re buying the spin provided by the anti-teacher politicians and the education ‘reformers.’

  8. As a former admissions representative, I would encourage students thinking about going to community college first and then transferring to a four-year school to do their homework. For instance, some colleges offer larger scholarships to first-year freshmen than to transfer students. So depending on how strong your grades are, you may actually be better off getting a larger scholarship up front.

    Also, not all four-year universities have articulation agreements with community colleges. Make sure the classes you take will actually transfer and count towards a degree plan at the four-year school. Otherwise you’ll be spending additional money taking classes over or taking the correct class.

    My recommendation is even if you plan to go to a community college first, start with the end in mind. Go talk to the four-year college you ultimately want to end up at and work with their transfer counselor from the very beginning. Otherwise, what may seem like a bargain at first glance might not work out that way in the end.

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