Why community college is worth it: There's great ROI

Study finds across-the-board increases in earnings for graduates

Most community college credentials provide a significant boost to future earnings, according to a new study from Columbia University and the Career Ladders Project.

The study was conducted by researchers from the California-based Career Ladders Project and Community College Research Center at Columbia University, and was published in the journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. Researchers tracked the labor market outcomes of about 20,000 college students who were enrolled in 34 community and technical colleges in Washington State during the 2001-2002 academic year.

The analysis showed that long-term certificate and associate degree programs increased graduates' chances of finding a job, securing higher wages, and working a full-time schedule compared with students who took a few courses but did not earn a credential.

Specifically, on average:

  • Men with long-term certificates earned $2,963 more per year;
  • Women with long-term certificates earned $6,100 more per year;
  • Men with associates degrees earned $3,667 more per year; and
  • Women with associates degrees earned $4,200 more per year.

Co-author of the study, Mina Dadgar, director of research at Career Ladders Project, says the study bolsters the case for investing in community colleges. She argues "community college credentials should be invested in by states, and high schools should also encourage students to earn a community college credential, rather than not going on to postsecondary education," because of the clear return on investment.

Related: Some short-term certificates may not carry the same benefits as long-term certificates do

Researchers found the economic value of short-term certificates was more questionable. Those that were not tied to local employer demand often providing only a small boost in earnings (Bidwell, U.S. News & World Report, 11/6).

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