Too Cool For School?

Nope.  At least that is what recent trends are showing – higher education is not just for the wealthy, and the wealthy are not looking only at the Yale’s and Harvard’s anymore.

As was reported by the Washington Post:

Comparatively affluent students are picking community colleges over four-year schools in growing numbers, a sign of changing attitudes toward an institution long identified with poorer people…

In the lengthening economic downturn, even relatively prosperous families have grown reluctant to borrow for college. Schools are finding that fewer students are willing to pay the full published price of attendance, which tops $55,000 at several private universities. More students are living at home…

For the price-conscious, community college epitomizes value. Public two-year colleges generally charge less than $5,000 a year — one-tenth the sticker price of elite private institutions. They offer most of the same general-education courses as four-year colleges, often with smaller classes taught by professors rather than graduate-student teaching assistants…

Community colleges, many with two-year honors programs, are competing with four-year schools for the accomplished high school graduate. Their top students can transfer to prestigious universities and finish their education at reduced expense…

The Washington Post; Two-year colleges draw more affluent students. By Daniel de Vise, Published: November 2

Now, I believe that this makes a lot of sense; let’s be honest, community colleges are the new forefront for our future (at least in terms of education, and in turn, culture).  President Obama foreshadowed this and signaled his agreement with earlier proposals, most specifically the American Jobs Act.  In it, he proposes allocating $5 billion to modernize community colleges, saying “investing in community college infrastructure improves access to lifelong learning for all Americans, ensuring the colleges’ ability to serve future generations of students and communities, and creating new jobs for construction workers who are hired to update colleges’ infrastructure.” ¹

As part of his call to “out-educate” the rest of the world as a means of regaining American positioning in the global economy, Obama “is investing $2 billion in competitive grants to reform community colleges,” in what is clearly an attempt to raise completion rates and advertise alternative routes of post-secondary education. ²   But why spend so much money on education (particularly in such a depressed economic state)? More importantly, why spend it on community colleges, as opposed to simply funneling it to state universities and private schools?

Clearly, community colleges are the new places where youth will be meeting; whether its middle-to-higher income students forced away from expensive private schools because of the economy, or lower-income students looking to further their education as best they can.  The obvious advantage is the cost – most semesters at a 2-year community college are a tenth of the tuition at private schools.   Even state school tuition can be pricey for a low-to-lower-middle-class family, or a family with multiple children.  Community colleges typically are able to offer smaller classrooms, which equate to more one-on-one interaction with educators – and with all of Obama’s investment, not only should the quality of teaching and facilities rise, but the scope of the 2 year-schools’ offerings will increase as well.

Community colleges are going through an identity crisis,  and the culture around higher education is finally reacting to the obvious signs of change that have been coming for the past decade.  Headlines about private schools’ tuition rates rising are soon to be replaced by ones detailing community colleges becoming more specialized; their curriculum/ funding may begin to tailor to their demographic’s interests, “private investors” may begin to help fund certain specialties and research, and they may even use local business advertising to help fund-raise for their different programs and initiatives.  Community colleges are soon-to-be far from the post-high school vocational image they’ve been given over the past several decades.

I think this will help bring about a change: in an era where our generation continues to utilize the World Wide Web in the way we fantasized about after the Jetsons, where entrepreneurs build brands behind viral marketing and social media platforms, the school on a degree may not mean as much any more.  Think about it – what’s more important, the knowledge or the name inside that frame on the wall?  The simple furthering of one’s education should be enough to give recent college grads the specialization they need to compete and influence their chosen fields.  Combined with tools like the internet, greater-available higher-quality technology, and good ‘ol American motivation, the average student would have more freedom of choice about where to go because of the lower cost of the education, leading to more money saved to invest in their pursuits after their education.

I think that this investment in community colleges and 2 year-schools will soon start a culture that pushes the standards of acceptable education, allowing greater creativity and diversity in schooling and promoting a more productive, positive, and satisfied American public.  Only time will tell, but one thing is for certain – attendance at all levels of schools across the country will not be decreasing any time soon.

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