Article - Office of College Advancement

Report: Community colleges deliver the goods

By Alisha Semchuck, Valley Press Staff Writer, asemchuck@avpress.com.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007—Reprinted from Antelope Valley Press.

Higher education leads the way to better paying jobs, according to a study conducted by California Community Colleges.

"Today, I am pleased to report that investment in California's community colleges is paying huge dividends. Wages of our graduates are up, access to our system is excellent, participation and graduation rates are high," said Chancellor Mark Drummond, Wednesday, during a conference at the State Capitol where he revealed findings of a study titled "Focus on Results: Accountability Reporting for the Community Colleges."

That study focused on the educational, vocational and transfer programs offered in the community college system's 72 districts and 109 campuses, including Antelope Valley College.

The project fulfilled a California mandate, Assembly Bill 1417, requiring a thorough and up-to-date assessment of the state's community college system.

In releasing the report, Drummond was joined by Vice Chancellor Patrick Perry; state Sen. Jack Scott, D-Altadena; state Sen. George Runner, R-Lancaster; Mark Wade Lieu, an English as a Second Language professor at Ohlone College in Fremont; Dale Cohen, director of nursing programs at Sacramento City College; and Bridget Howe, a student at Foothill-De Anza Community College, northwest of San Jose.

Drummond said the report indicated that the median income of community college students who completed their degrees or vocational certificates practically tripled from $17,000 per year to $49,500 per year when comparing the five-year period prior to completing that education with the five years that follow.

Antelope Valley College President Jackie Fisher called the report "an affirmation of what we've been telling students all along about the value of community college. Students who complete a degree or certification improve their chances of securing a better paying career."

Fisher said the law enforcement academy at AVC and its nursing programs are examples of educational programs that help people qualify for better jobs.

"We have technicians for engineering. That's the role of a community college," Fisher said. "It reaches out to a diverse population in the community."

Presently, more than 70% of all California students pursuing higher education attend community colleges, the study said. By 2013, another 600,000 students are expected to enroll at higher education facilities, with about 80% of them at a community college in the state.

"Three out of 10 Californians between the ages of 18 and 24 are attending a California community college at any given time," Perry noted.

The study found that community colleges provide the most access to "underrepresented populations" in the higher education arena - African-Americans, Native Americans, Hispanic and Pacific Islanders that come from places like Hawaii, Guam, Samoa and Tonga.

Though the Pacific Islanders represent a small population, Perry said, "they have a high participation rate in our system."

Fields like nursing benefit from the availability of medical programs at community college campuses, especially because of the high demand to fill a nursing shortage in the state, officials said. Perry said more than 7,000 nursing students - a mix of registered nurses and licensed vocational nurses - graduate from the community college system every year.

"That number is probably going to go higher, thanks to the governor's nursing initiative," Perry said. "The community college system is the largest source of trained nurses in the state." One reason is the low tuition rates of $20 per unit, he said.

Karen Cowell, dean of Health Sciences at Antelope Valley College, said that campus averages between 110 and 120 registered-nurse graduates per year. Licensed vocational nurses graduate every 18 months, usually with a class of 25 to 30 students, she added.

"Many of them stay here," she said. "They want to stay. This is their home. They have children in school here, spouses who work here. We're happy when they stay."

Roughly 25% or 30% of each class is age 25 years or younger. "Another 25% are 26 to 30 years old. Those are the students likely to have roots in the community."

"It's worthwhile for students to work hard and finish the program," Cowell said. "Some find jobs that pay $60,000 to $80,000 per year."

The study also showed that while more than 66,000 community college students transferred to the University of California system or the California State University system this past year, an estimated 30,000 went on to in-state private or out-of-state four-year institutions.

Perry said that, for a long time, the community college system tracked how many students went on to UC and CSU, but this is the first time they're keeping tabs on the number that enter in-state private, for-profit and out-of-state universities.

Runner congratulated the community college system for its self-evaluation.

"That's one of the reasons community colleges are successful. They are community-driven and able to evaluate themselves based on community expectations and needs," the senator said. "This study again emphasizes the importance of access to higher education."

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