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Are Two-Year Colleges Better for the Next Generation?

12 Feb

MAURICE GARLAND

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If you hate school already, why stick around for four more years?

Admit it. Watching “A Different World” had your mind set on going to college. HBCU or not, the thought of leaving home and going away to a college where you could be best friends with Dwayne Wayne, date Whitley Gilbert or fight the power with Freddie was just too fun not to entertain.

But it was a TV show. For all its critical acclaim dealing with social issues, one it didn’t touch was the debt that a student accrues in four years for a degree that can’t assure a job.

Recent studies have shown that going to a four-year college is far from a path along the yellow brick road to prosperity. In 2011, 85 percent of recent college graduates returned home because they couldn’t afford to take care of themselves.

Why does that happen? Because one in two recent college grads are either jobless or underemployed.

Aside from paying for rent, utilities, food, clothing, and if they’re fortunate enough, a car, these same college grads are also living with the burden of student loan debt, which reached $1 trillion in the United States last year. In many cases, a four-year college education can easily exceed a year’s salary. The average student loan debt is $27,000 while the average college graduate’s salary hovers around $43,000.

The federal government has suggested changes to its income-based repayment plan, but one study by the New America Foundation says the moves will largely benefit middle-to-high income borrowers – and most of them seeking graduate degrees.

So if the prospects are slim for a graduate with a four-year degree, what other options do you have?

A study conducted by CollegeMeasures.org found that students attending two-year institutions earning “occupational/technical” or associate’s degrees were coming out making more money than their four-year counterparts. Up to $6,000 more to be exact.

“In the U.S., we’ve tended to think that the bachelor’s degree is the only thing that matters, and this data tells us that technical degrees from community colleges are hidden gems,” said CollegeMeasures.org president Mark Schneider.

While two-year institutions and vocational schools may not be as prestigious as four-year colleges, they provide a practical alternative. Economically, the schools just aren’t as expensive. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, the average annual tuition at a two-year school is $2,963.

The average annual cost for a public four-year institution is more than $8,000. Depending on resources, a student may be able to avoid assuming any debt by attending a two-year institution – something colleges prefer with more frequency.Reports indicate that colleges are increasingly recruiting students who can pay out of pocket and shying away from those who depend on loans.

Beyond economics, four-year institutions might not be for everyone. Around 1.3 million students drop out of high school every year. Even though graduation rates among African American males have improved in recent years, only 52 percent of those who attend college finish in four years.

If we have a generation of children who don’t want to be in school to begin with, compounded by the fact that staying in school longer will most likely lead to more debt with no employment prospects, it’s probably time that we do away with the “A Different World” fantasy and drive more toward two-year colleges. There, they can actually learn a skill if they aren’t set out for the campus life experience.

A January 2013 study titled “Hard Times,” released by Georgetown University stated, “In general, majors that are linked to occupations have better employment prospects than majors focused on general skills.”

So while that fancy four-year degree may look good on the wall and make your mother proud, the new reality is that prestige isn’t paying all of the bills right now or in the future. It’s time to adjust.

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