Today, Oct. 3, the 30 SUNY and seven CUNY community colleges are hosting Completion Day on each of their campuses. The need for people to complete their college education has been raised as a priority at the local, state and national levels. Why the focus on completion?
The United States is ranked 12th in the world among major industrialized countries in higher education attainment with a number of countries close behind us. The intrinsic value of having a citizenry that is educated cannot be underestimated. People with a college degree are more likely to vote, volunteer, contribute to charity, serve on boards and run for office. College graduates are less likely to commit crimes. Research links greater educational attainment to reduced social costs and a longer life.
On the job front, each year more and more high-paying jobs are going unfilled because we do not have workers with the necessary skills to fill those positions. Nationally, 60 percent of all jobs by 2020 will require a college credential. New York state, like many others, has stringent education requirements for many professions such as child care. Locally we do not have enough students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) track to meet employer needs. Despite the unemployment rate in Jefferson County, the Workplace reports that employers are having difficulty finding qualified people to fill their positions.
On average, students who complete their associate degree can expect to earn about $400,000 more in their lifetime than a high school graduate. Locally, the value of a Jefferson Community College associate degree yields the average graduate at their career midpoint 35 percent more per year than a student with a high school diploma.
In these challenging economic times the statistics associated with holding a college degree are even more pertinent. Credential holders are more likely to retain their job. Unemployment for community college graduates is typically 30 percent lower than for high school graduates. Nationally people change jobs up to 10 times in their lifetimes. When a human resources department is reviewing applications for a position, one of the criteria is often whether the person has a degree. Those without a degree (including those who have taken college courses but did not finish) go into one pile; those with a degree go into another. It is no secret which pile gets considered first.
So what is Jefferson Community College doing to help students complete their degrees? Completion Day helps to bring the need to complete front and center. We are challenging students to sign a commitment to complete their degrees, providing information about services such as tutoring and counseling, having alumni talk about the value of their degree, and adding several elements of fun to engage students. Our tagline for the event is Commit, Complete, Compete and we are making sure that every student is aware of the value of completing their education.
Considering this more important than a one-day event, we remain focused on helping every student achieve their goals. We are committed to remaining affordable. At $1,872 per semester, our tuition is a bargain. Our financial aid office works with low-income students to help them apply for aid and scholarships to reduce the financial burden. The Jefferson Community College Foundation provides more than a quarter million dollars in scholarships every year. Only 28 percent of Jefferson Community College students borrow money to attend with an average loan of $3,928.
We target our programs to the needs of our community. Many students are working to obtain a bachelors degree (or higher) and our transfer programs excel at giving those students their first two years at a low cost. Our career programs such as nursing, criminal justice, paramedic, alternative energies and accounting, to name a few, are designed to meet the needs of local employers. Our Higher Education Center partners go through the same rigorous process that we do to ascertain that the programs they offer are on target for Jefferson County.
We provide an incredible array of support services. Our students, just like community college students across the country, face significant challenges in completing their education. Many Jefferson Community College students are not just going to college but have a job and a family. And many of our students need some assistance to be successful. They may be the first in their family to attend college, may not have the study skills they need, or need an academic boost in one or more subject areas.
Whether in an economic upswing or in these more challenging times, we cannot, as a college or as a community, lose sight of the value of completing a college education. It is our role to help students understand the value of this commitment and to provide the assistance that will help them complete their degree, so that they can better compete in the job market and in life. Commit-Complete-Compete.
Carole A. McCoy is president of Jefferson Community College.