America depends on community colleges

Published 8:06 pm Thursday, November 12, 2009

As an extension of last week’s column focusing on Virginia’s community colleges, following are highlights on community colleges across the nation, derived from data available as of January 2009 from the website for the American Association of Community Colleges.

America’s community colleges

Community colleges are a vital part of our postsecondary education delivery system. They serve almost half of all undergraduate students in the United States, providing open access to postsecondary education, preparing students for transfer to four-year institutions, providing workforce development and skills training, and offering noncredit programs ranging from English as a second language to skills retraining to community enrichment programs or cultural activities.

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Since globalization is driving changes in our economy, the need for an educated workforce has never been greater. The majority of new jobs that will be created by 2014 will require some postsecondary education. And as a result of changing workforce demographics, employers increasingly rely on the very students who currently are least likely to complete their education.

Clearly, without community colleges (an American invention), millions of students and adult learners would be unable able to access the education they need in order to be prepared for further education or the workplace. Community colleges often are the access point for education and a catalyst for economic development in the communities they serve.

Furthermore, American community colleges are at the forefront in the following six areas:

Health care: 59 percent of new nurses and the majority of other new health-care workers are educated at community colleges.

Workforce training: 95 percent of businesses and organizations that employ community college graduates recommend community college workforce education and training programs.

International programs: Close to 100,000 international students attend community colleges, about 39 percent of all international undergraduate students in the United States.

Homeland security: Close to 80 percent of firefighters, law enforcement officers, and EMTs are credentialed at community colleges.

Online education: Students at 41 percent of public community colleges can earn a degree entirely online, and 92 percent of all institutions offer at least one Internet-based course.

Earnings: The average expected lifetime earnings for a graduate with an associate degree are $1.6 million, about $400,000 more than a high school graduate earns.

For information on your community college, call 569-6700, or visit