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Articles by Donald E. L. Johnson

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Should your kid attend a 2-year community college, a 3-year college or a 4+-year university?

With the rapid inflation in college tuition and the still deepening recession, kids and parents are looking for ways to reduce tuition costs. Kids are looking at attending lower-cost two-year community colleges before they move on to four-year colleges for their junior and senior years. And kids, parents and politicians are talking about making it easier for students to complete college in three years instead of four or five by reducing the number of credits required to graduate.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been chatting on with a few friends who are educators. They strengthened my speculation that a lot more kids would save money by spending their first two years in community colleges instead of on the campuses of expensive four year colleges. As noted below, close to half of U.S. undergrads are in two-year community colleges, but most of these enrollees are no longer kids (average age is 29). Remember, however, that I’m not writing a dissertation on this, just a blog post.

Then, this morning’s Washington Post published a short article about the drive to cut college to three years from four years. The comments by educators and students as well as parents that follow the article are more interesting than the article itself.

I posted two comments: has a recent story about a new report, What does a degree cost? on the cost of a degree under three approaches to cost accounting. After reading that, I started wondering how many kids will cut tuition costs by spending their first two years of college in a community college. In talking with a couple of CC instructors who have Ph.D.s (some 18% of them do), I found that one believes CC grads do as well [in their junior and senior years] in 4-yr. schools as kids who do all 4 years in those schools. Expect the market to move faster than educators and politicians. CCs will grow while overbuilt universities and colleges will shrink. Wondering what others think about this.

After reading about 28 earlier comments by others, I wrote:

The experience of 4-year colleges is great for kids who don’t drink, are great networkers, are mature when they start and need to work while in school. A 4-year college also is fun for kids who spend a lot of time on “activities” such as student government and on clubs. But 4-years on a major university campus can be a drag for kids whose personalities make living in dorms miserable and for kids whose parents are going in debt to help pay their tuition and room and board. Yes, it’s fun to cheer the FB and BB teams, but you can do that without a degree. And being the loyal alum of a Harvard or Notre Dame can be very expensive. Generalizing about the number of years or credits needed to get degrees makes no sense. Smart, focused kids need less time and fewer credits than the clueless kids who are finding themselves. Kids headed for grad school probably need more credits than those who aren’t. The problem is that faculty make work for themselves at the expense of students and society, and they’re very good at selling their incredibly expensive approaches to education. For-profit schools are run by profit-motivated adults rather than by self-serving faculty. Sometimes the profit motive is better than the careerism that rules most of higher education. This won’t be popular with my relatives and friends in higher ed, but it needs to be repeated.

These aren’t original thoughts, but I think they should be on the table. And, yes, I know there are thousands of profs in four-year colleges who love to teach, are good teachers and spend a lot of time helping students accomplish their goals. A niece just graduated from Colorado’s Western State. She says most of her profs were great, but like elsewhere, there are a few pills there, too.

Most important, the market is helping solve the problem. Many kids already attend two-year community colleges and do very well when they move on to four-year colleges for their final two years. After all, they’ve had time to grow up, prove their academic skills and decide that a B.S. or B.A. and higher are for them. And some smart, focused kids are earning four to five years worth of credits in one to three years.

All of this proves that financial incentives do wondrous things, even in education. It will interesting to see whether educators will increasingly try to help kids save money or whether they will continue to act mostly in their self interests while complaining about the profit motives in education and health care.

Links: What does a degree cost? Full disclosure: Nate Johnson is my nephew and, like many families, ours has several people in education and has a long history of enjoying the benefits of good educations.

I searched the web for “community colleges faculty” and the first interesting piece I found was Community College Faculty: Must Love to Teach: I’m told this is a Pollyanish view of teaching in CCs because it doesn’t report on the low pay for teachers in CCs. And many teachers are part time. That’s what makes them affordable, of course. And as long as people are willing teach under those conditions, CCs will continue to be affordable, I guess.

American Assn. of Community Colleges: Faculty Degree Attainment. About 13% of full time and 3% of part timefaculty have Ph.D.s. In 2005, “close to half,” or about 6.5 million of the undergrads in the U.S. were in community colleges. Will that become close to 66% or 75% in 10 years?


Posted by Donald E. L. Johnson on 05/23/2009 at 06:17 AM


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