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A college education: Is it worth it?

Graduates at ceremonies at Santa Monica City College. (Photo: Joseph Sohm)

From housing to college, Californians are complaining about affordability.

In a recent survey by the Public Policy Institute of California, 56 percent of adults say college affordability is a big problem and 62 percent believe current funding for public colleges and universities is not enough.

As parents and students grapple with their future, many are looking towards alternatives to the typical four-year degree.  Many are focusing more on careers, jobs, benefits, and steady careers that fulfill their interests.

Adults are divided about whether a two-year degree from a community college prepares someone for a well-paying job.

Californians are divided on whether a college education is necessary for a person to be successful today.  Half (50 percent) believe college is necessary, but the other half (48 percent) believe there are many ways to succeed without a college education.

The questions remains, what do adults feel are other ways to succeed without college?

In the survey, respondents were told that according to the California Master Plan for Higher Education, “the California Community Colleges focus on two-year associate degrees and transfer to four-year colleges and offer vocational training and certificates. The California State University focuses on bachelor’s degrees and offers some masters degrees. The University of California serves as a research university and offers bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees.”

Respondents were generally favorable to this plan with 68 percent in favor.

Adults are divided about whether a two-year degree from a community college prepares someone for a well-paying job.  Just over half believe a two-year degree prepares someone for a well-paying job in today’s economy (13 percent, very well and 45 percent, somewhat well).

Respondents were very positive when asked about how a certificate in a professional, technical or vocational field prepares someone for a well-paying job in today’s economy, with four out of five surveyed saying it does. Thirty-three percent say it prepares them very well and 48 percent say it prepares them somewhat well.

Decades ago, major companies such as Boeing hired employees and trained them, and they stayed with the company for 30 years.

“What they are saying if I have something that is tailored to the labor market I am getting a good education,” said Rona Sherriff, co-director of California EDGE, an organization focused on meeting the skills gap in California.

It’s not surprising that adults have lower opinions of a two-year degree.  If you receive a two-year Associate Degree on average you will make $38,000, but if you go through a career education program it rises to $66,000.

Van Ton-Quinlivan, the vice chancellor of the California Community College system, heads up workforce and economic development.  She came into the position from Pacific Gas and Electric, where she helped create a partnership between PG&E and local colleges to prepare people for technical jobs that PG&E was having a hard time filling.

Decades ago, major companies such as Boeing hired employees and trained them, and they stayed with the company for 30 years.

But the economy is global now, and employees are not sticking with the same company for decades.  Companies may no longer invest in training employees like they used to, and some are suffering from a shortage of mid-skill workers with technical skills.

Political conservatives (41 percent) are most likely to say a certificate prepares someone for a well-paying job very well in today’s economy, followed by moderates (33 percent), and liberals (25 percent).

“I came to the community colleges during the recession. We were in a situation where workforce development was an afterthought and we have gone from an afterthought to a priority,” said Ton-Quinlivan.

“We have been able to go from $100 million to $900 million investment annually and consolidated a whole bunch of systems, such as the apprenticeship system and the adult education system and created regional community college technical education so that colleges can work together to meet labor market needs in their region,” she said.

Political conservatives (41 percent) are most likely to say a certificate prepares someone for a well-paying job very well in today’s economy, followed by moderates (33 percent), and liberals (25 percent).

Geographically, there are variations, too. Adults in inland California are more likely to say that a certificate prepares someone very well, such as Central Valley (40 percent) and Inland Empire (39 percent. In more coastal areas, that perception drops — Los Angeles (35 percent), Orange/San Diego (30 percent) and the Bay Area (26 percent).

Meanwhile, 67 percent of adults who are not registered to vote believe college is necessary, while it drops to 42 percent for registered voters.

But Californians continue to have concerns.

As state government continues to craft a plan for California’s higher education, Californians’ faith in government is not strong.

Just 16 percent have a great deal of confidence in the state government’s ability to plan for the future of California’s public education system, while 40 percent have some confidence, 27 percent very little confidence, and 14 percent have none.

The community colleges continue to move forward with new programs, including an online community college that will allow adults who work full time to have the freedom to take classes to gain skills that employers are looking for.

Meanwhile, 67 percent of adults who are not registered to vote believe college is necessary, while it drops to 42 percent for registered voters.  Among racial groups, 67 percent of Latinos, 54 percent of Asians and 51 percent of African-Americans believe college is necessary, while just 35 percent of whites do.

Among income levels, 59 percent of those that make under $40,000 annually believe college is necessary, but it drops to 40 percent among those earning $40,000-$79,000, and 42 percent among $80,000 or more.

“It’s not surprising that we see Latino, Black, and low income individuals sharing that college is important to them because they have been under represented in college,” said Audrey Dow, senior vice president at The Campaign for College Opportunity.  “A college degree will provide a much higher income and insulate them from unemployment and provide things that will give you a secure life, such as health care and home ownership.”

Although Californians are divided on the necessity of college, 83 percent believe a four-year degree prepares them for a well-paying job (30 percent, very well and 53 percent, somewhat well).  Some of the groups that believe a four-year degree prepares someone very well the most include, Central Valley (36 percent), African-Americans (40 percent), Latinos (40 percent), high school graduates (39 percent), and non-citizens (45 percent).

“There is a strong correlation between the amount of education you have and the amount of money you will make in your lifetime,” said Bob Nelson, an independent from San Diego.

Ed’s Note: Click here for the Community College Video Link.

 


  • Fred

    Having a Associate degree got me a good job as a drafter, and I transitioned into a engineering position. Then again that was about 35 years ago.

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