As thousands of university hopefuls finish their senior year from home, they will soon need to decide where, when and how to continue their education in a COVID-19 world.
A lot has changed since the beginning of this academic year. Students’ financial situations, concerns about personal safety and future job prospects have all shifted dramatically in a short period of time. Students now learn primarily online, group projects are completed from separate locations and teacher-student interactions happen on a screen rather than in a classroom.
Considering this new environment, many are understandably rethinking their options. One survey of 1,000 graduating high school students performed by the online portfolio platform, Cirkled In, found that 25 percent of students are reconsidering where they attend college because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Nearly 70 percent also expect the pandemic to affect their higher education financial situation, which may cause some students to question the viability of attending a traditional four-year college at this time.
While four-year institutions are wonderful places to learn, their tuition rates are at all-time highs. Classes may still be entirely online come fall. If campuses reopen, some students may have concerns about leaving home.
What were once considered “alternative” options, will instead become more typical in today’s uncertain environment. We will likely see more students taking a gap year to work, pursue internships or volunteer. Local community colleges are another excellent option that should be considered by more students and parents.
Community colleges offer a quality, comprehensive, and affordable educational experience for those looking to stay closer to home, maintain greater flexibility over their education and save money in the near term.
The numbers are compelling. Take Montgomery County Community College, as an example. Annual tuition for a full-time student at the college totaled $5,730 during the 2019-2020 school year. Compare that to the national average of $10,440 at public four-year institutions and $36,880 at private nonprofit four-year institutions, according to a 2019 study conducted by EducationData.org.
Additionally, community colleges are physically closer to home. Roughly 90 percent of Americans live within commuting distance of a community college, according to The Princeton Review.
Countless high-earning careers are available to community college graduates. Many positions in health care, public service, web development and more only require an associate degree. First-year graduates at MCCC can expect a return on investment on their education of between 100 to 300 percent, based on the median salaries earned and the average tuition cost. Not to mention, the opportunity to go on to earn a bachelor’s degree will always be there for community college graduates. In fact, 41 percent of all students who earn an associate degree finish a bachelor’s degree within six years, according to a study performed by The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, the value provided by a community college is higher than ever before. And now, as many students and parents reassess their higher education options, community colleges will play a critical role. Community colleges offer an attractive opportunity for students to pursue their education while staying close to home, saving money and maintaining flexibility over their future as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reshape our society.
While the near future may look cloudy, sunny skies are on the horizon for today’s students. It may simply require a slight redirection to get there. Through this change in course, many will come to understand a reality that those in higher education have known to be true for some time – community colleges prepare students to lead their own lives through an unexpected, holistic and affordable educational experience.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Victoria L. Bastecki-Perez is Interim president and provost of Montgomery County Community College.
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