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Federal Reserve Bank Says Don't Go To Community College


Well, methinks the community colleges of America will be having a cow about now.

Yesterday, education reporter Mary Beth Marklein of USA Today announced a study that finds a Two-year ‘penalty’ if a student starts his or her higher education in a community college. The study, produced by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, indicates that students who start their education at a two-year college make somewhat less than their counterparts who start at a four-year college or university.

Interesting. Except that it’s not.

Does it really inform a particular individual’s decision about whether to start at a two-year school if as a group community college folks make less?

What about the price differential between the cost of a two year college and the cost of a four year college? If I invested the difference, would I have come out better than those who started at a four-year program?

These are nice statistics. But I envision that some parents will interpret them as a reason to prevent their student from attending a community college.

Sadly, this is exactly what the author of the study hopes: that students will think twice about attending a community college, because they will make less in the long run.

But remember folks, YOU (and your son or daughter) are not statistics. They are individuals. The averages may or may not apply to your son or daughter.

Plus, this study says nothing about the fact that there are many, many students who perhaps started at a community college because their grades in high school were low, or family finances were such that a four-year college was not an option immediately out of high school.

What if those same people who show up in the statistics were NOT to go to college?

Plus (I’m on a roll…), the average of the four-year colleges is across the entire higher education system. It is NOT true that any four-year degree is equivalent to any other.

I do not quarrel with the general principle that in the aggregate, all people who started with at a four-year college make somewhat more than those who started at a two-year college.

I also do not quarrel with the principle that (in the aggregate) those with a BA make more than those without them.

But your child (or mine) could easily make much more or much less than any of these aggregate averages.

Statistics are not determinants in individual cases. Students who start at a community college are not doomed to make less than their peers at four year colleges.

Am I wrong to believe in the power of the individual and the existence of personal will?

So, while I am appreciative of the information this study provides, we should use the data carefully. It should not, despite the wishes of the author to the contrary, be used to guide an individual’s decisions about their educational or professional future.

Mark Montgomery
Educational Consultant

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