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Politics & Policy

The Community College Alternative

Harper College instructor Scott Nelson (left) shows students a welding technique on the community college campus in Palatine, Ill., in 2013. (John Gress/Reuters)

Not so long ago, most Americans thought that “real” college meant a four-year school. Those who earned their bachelor’s degrees had a mark of distinction, whereas anyone who attended a community college branded himself as a loser.

Things are changing. More and more people understand that a bachelor’s degree might represent four years of fun and academic nonsense, indicating little about the holder other than persistence. On the other hand, quite a few Americans avail themselves of useful training programs offered at community colleges. In fact, it’s not uncommon for BA holders to eventually enroll in a community college for some beneficial program.

In today’s Martin Center article, Shannon Watkins interviews Thomas Stith, the president of North Carolina’s community college system.

One good development appears to be the improved alignment between the training and apprenticeship programs offered and the personnel needs of business in the state. Another interesting feature is dual enrollment, which allows high-school students to take community college classes, thus possibly enabling them to get into the workforce sooner.

Another point Stith mentions is that the NC system is not trying to emulate “real” colleges by going into four-year programs. Four-year degrees for the most part just mean more cost, not more learning.

I am always skeptical about anything government does, but it appears that the taxpayers of the state might be getting pretty good value for the money they spend on community colleges.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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