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STATEMENT: New Report Shows One- and Two- Year Credentials Offer Path to Jobs

Community college credentials can play a vital role in creating economic security for young adults while at the same time rejuvenating career opportunities.

New York, NY — As President Obama calls for massive increases in Federal college grant aide in the 2011 budget, a new report by the policy center Demos shows how one-and two-year postsecondary degrees are vital tools for moving people into living-wage jobs.

The report, entitled Graduated Success: Sustainable Economic Opportunity Through One- and Two-Year Credentials, outlines how community college credentials can play a vital role in creating economic security for young adults while at the same time rejuvenating career opportunities for out-of-work Americans. The one- and two-year certificates and associates degrees they offer can, in many cases, deliver graduates higher salaries than four-year degrees-encouraging news as millions of Americans look for a path back to full employment. Degrees in engineering and health care, two fields where worker shortages continue, are particularly lucrative.

While the evidence is encouraging, the report suggests that the great potential of community colleges has not yet been fully realized. Nearly half of certificate and associate degree students in career-related fields fail to complete a degree of any type.

"We found widespread evidence that community colleges and technical degree programs, which offer specialized training for a variety of fields, are vital to a 'good jobs' economic recovery," said Viany Orozco, Policy Analyst in the Economic Opportunity Program at Demos and a co-author of the report. "But there are also myriad technical barriers preventing many who matriculate into one-and two-year programs from graduating."

Barriers discussed in the report include the reality that large numbers of community college students are forced to work full-or part-time in order to pay for college and living expenses and that many lack academic preparedness.

"These obstacles are not insurmountable," said Orozco, "and are well worth the effort as millions of young adults and recently laid off workers look to community colleges for needed career training."

The findings of "Graduated Success" include:

  • Eight years after graduating from high school, 27 percent of those holding a community college certificate as their highest degree earn a median annual salary that is higher than someone holding a bachelors degree.
  • 31 percent of associates degree holders earn more than someone holding a bachelors degree.
  • The salaries earned by those with community college certificates in engineering and health care ($47,000 and $46,000 respectively), are close to what bachelors degree holders in the social or natural sciences earn, and are actually more than what someone holding a bachelors degree in education earns.
  • Students who are awarded certificates earn median annual salaries that are 27% greater (about $8,000 a year more) than those who leave school with no post-secondary awards.
  • Nearly 4 out of 10 (38 percent) of those who enroll in occupational certificate programs and 6 out of 10 (58 percent) of those enrolling in occupational associate degree programs fail to earn a credential of any type within six years.
  • The average low-income student attending a community college has $7,000 in unmet expenses AFTER financial aid grants are taken into account
  • Six out of 10 students entering community colleges are required to take remedial courses to make up for knowledge and skills they should have learned in high school, putting them at a severe disadvantage to pursue and finish specialized, high-paying credentials.

"Despite the promising outcomes of one- and two-year credentials, having to work multiple jobs while studying and not having the needed academic preparation often prevent students from obtaining their degrees," said Jennifer Wheary, one of the report co-authors and a senior fellow at Demos.

A substantive investment in community college institutions such as the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act passed by the House of Representatives and awaiting passage in the Senate would be an important step in restoring access to one- and two-year credentials to all students.

Financial supports and grants to students will also play a crucial role in enabling community college students to cover their living expenses and hence having to work less. By enrolling full-time, more students will be able to graduate sooner and be ready to take up high-demand jobs in a recovering economy.

Graduated Success: Sustainable Economic Opportunity Through One- and Two-Year Credentials was made possible by support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.