• November 23, 2014

Community Colleges Nourish Both Students and Society, Report Says

Community-college graduates receive nearly $5 in benefits for every dollar they spend on their education, while the return to taxpayers is almost six to one, according to a report scheduled for release on Tuesday that measures not only graduates' higher earning power but also their healthier lifestyles.

The report, "Where Value Meets Values: The Economic Impact of Community Colleges," seeks to quantify what happens when community colleges provide employers with skilled workers, the economy with consumers, and graduates with jobs along with better health and well-being.

The 88-page report was prepared by Economic Modeling Specialists International for the American Association of Community Colleges.

Among the report's other findings:

  • Associate-degree holders can expect to earn $41,900 per year by the middle of their careers, about $10,700 more than someone with just a high-school diploma earns at that point. Those with bachelor's degrees earn $26,900 more than holders of high-school degrees.
  • Society receives $1.1-trillion in added income, in present-day dollars, over the course of the students' careers. It saves $46.4-billion due to lower rates of crime, welfare, and unemployment, as well as a population that's less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol or to be obese.

Those spillover effects are similar, the report says, to the benefits that orchard owners receive when beekeepers set up hives nearby so their bees will have easy access to flowers. When the bees spread pollen, the orchards flourish too.

"Educational institutions are like beekeepers," the report says. "While their principal aim is to provide education and raise people's incomes, in the process an array of external benefits are created. Students' health and lifestyles are improved, and society indirectly benefits just as orchard owners indirectly benefit from beekeepers."

'A Fat, Smoking Criminal'

The findings released on Tuesday were much rosier than those in an October report that focused more narrowly on tuition costs and post-graduation salaries. It found that while individual graduates often came out ahead, community colleges delivered a negative return on investment to taxpayers, in part, because of the colleges' high dropout rates.

One author of that report, Mark S. Schneider, a vice president of the American Institutes for Research and president of College Measures, took issue with the conclusions in the latest report.

Mr. Schneider, who viewed the report before its release, said the researchers had attributed too many external, societal benefits to getting a diploma and failed to acknowledge that students who attend college are already less likely to pose risks or added costs to society.

"It assumes that if you didn't graduate from a community college, you're going to be a fat, smoking criminal, which is just not true," he said.

Walter G. Bumphus, chief executive officer of the community-colleges association, countered that Mr. Schneider's earlier report had largely been rejected by many higher-education experts "for its inferior methods and ulterior motives."

Mr. Schneider's co-author on the report was Jorge Klor de Alva, president of Nexus Research and Policy Center and a former president of the University of Phoenix. Both authors say that their work is completely separate from the for-profit sector and was in no way biased toward those institutions.

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