Essential Pittsburgh
4:42 pm
Tue July 30, 2013

Can Community Colleges Save the Economy?

How important are community colleges to an American education?
Credit CCAC North Library

Though they are sometimes mocked and often overlooked in the conversation about post-secondary education, community colleges are playing an important role in the reinvention of the American workforce.

With the costs of public and private universities skyrocketing and a changing economy that demands of a bevy of new skills, community colleges have become the primary option for many students seeking to gain crucial skills at a lower cost.

According to Dr. Michael T. Murphy, interim president of the Community College of Allegheny County, in order to understand the role of community colleges “we need to step back a little bit and think about what it is that community colleges are trying to do.”

In the current economic climate, many of those enrolling in community colleges are re-training themselves so that they could remain relevant and employable in an increasingly high-tech job market. “Society needs a broad array of qualified and talented people to do its work.” Murphy adds.

The community college environment is fairly different from a typical university environment. Christopher Mullin, who works as the Program Director for Policy Analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges, says that the inclusion of re-training and pragmatic, skills based education creates a unique learning environment in which young students hoping to move on to a major university will work side by side with adults who are hoping to re-enter the workforce.

At a time when college tuition is increasing at a relentless pace, the economics of community college are also important, and Murphy notes that “two years at $3,000 [in a community college] and two years at $30,000 [at a private college] is a lot better than four years at $30,000.” Ultimately, however, the role of community colleges is fairly simple: using educational opportunities to assist the communities around them. Mullin believes that this is no small task, saying that “The hardest part is trying to be on the curve and ahead of the curve and making sure that the communities of this nation thrive in the way they need to.”