Although the economy has slowly begun to piece itself back together, several new college graduates and incoming college students still have found themselves at a disadvantage in finding employment while holding liberal arts degrees, and thus, have continued to incorporate graduate school as a stepping-stone to either enter or elevate their career pursuits. Yet, instead of opting for admissions into some of the nation’s most prestigious and respected four-year institutions, many students have chosen community colleges in order to market themselves as competitive and qualified job candidates.
Traditionally attributed with their prevalent role in accommodating minorities and students from lower-income households, community colleges have become esteemed higher education programs within the last five years, servicing students from various backgrounds. With the community-oriented design of the two-year colleges, particularly in their tailored curriculum to accommodate the high demands of STEM careers, such institutions are reinventing themselves as the leaders of technological education.
“A lot of the STEM fields are occupationally defined programs that lead directly to employment. With many of our two-year associate programs, students enter our colleges and immediately begin studying in the field that they plan to work in,” said Chris Mullins, program director for policy analysis with the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).
The customized studies that students encountered at community colleges has attributed largely to the surge of post-graduate students that the two-year institutions have begun to withhold. According to the National Post Secondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS), 8 percent of students entering community college already completed some form of higher education, whether they received a bachelor’s, master’s or sometimes even a doctoral degree. In the study, NSPAS estimated that approximately 849,000 students received associate degrees during the 2009-2010 academic year, which is a 50.4 percent increase from the last 10 years. Among the rising numbers of associate degrees awarded, there was a 105 percent increase in STEM-related fields during the same academic period.
Mullins explained that a large majority of students seeking advanced training in STEM careers have found community colleges advantageous, especially in the networks that they have gained from the school’s direct links to local employers. “By having connections within local industries, it helps to make sure our programs are in line with employer expectations, especially since education is a large part of employment,” Mullins said. (Read more.)