Five Facts on Community College in America

The Democratic social spending and climate reconciliation bill being advanced on Capitol Hill includes funding to provide universal community college tuition funding for two years. Who goes to community colleges, how do they currently pay for it, and what is the value of their degrees? Here are five facts on community college in America.

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  1. Trade school attendees often earn more than those who graduated from community college.

A 2015 study found that Coloradans with associate’s degrees earned on average $36,920 after five years and $42,484 after 10 years. Those with certificates from a trade school — which offer specific training for roles ranging from plumbing and welding to dental hygienist and cosmetologist — earned $44,070 after five years and $48,884 after 10 years. Nationwide, in 2017 occupations requiring a certificate averaged $37,670 per year, while those requiring some college but no degree averaged $35,250.

  1. Three out of five students who start community college do not complete a degree program within six years.

As for going on to a four-year institution, while about 80% of those who enroll in a community college intend to ultimately transfer to such a school, only about 30% of them actually do so.

  1. Twenty states already offer some sort of free community college.

These include high-population states such as California and New York. California provides tuition waivers to students, even if those students are eligible for other funding or grants. New York covers tuition up to $5,500 for students for two- and four-year programs in the State University of New York and City University of New York systems.

  1. Community college applicants are already eligible for the same federal financial available to applicants to four-year programs.

The federal government sets limits on how much financial aid college students can receive, but does not differentiate between what can be received for a four-year college and a community college. Fifty-nine percent of community college students receive financial aid.

  1. One-third of community college students have incomes or access to parental incomes of $50,000 per year or more.

While community college is sometimes viewed as primarily a resource for those with low incomes, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that in 2019, 33% of attendees had access to annual incomes of $50,000 per year or more (and about half were dependent on parents), while 37% had access to incomes of $20,000 per year or less (and just 23% were dependent).

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