Community Colleges: A Route of Upward Economic Mobility

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Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Four-year colleges and universities tend to dominate the discourse on American higher education, but this report seeks to give the nation’s community colleges – whose students account for nearly half of all U.S. undergraduates – their due credit.

Written by a Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis economist, the report examines the value of a community college education by comparing community college students with those who begin their college careers at fouryear schools and with those who do not attend college. The report notes that even students who never complete their community college degrees earn a 9 percent to 13 percent higher salary than people with only high school diplomas. Students who graduate from community college before eventually earning their degrees from four-year schools earn an average of only $2,426 less a year, over their employment lives, than graduates who began at four-year schools.

The report also cites the limits of community college education, such as the fact that 71 percent of community college students do not transfer to fouryear institutions and only about 16 percent ever receive a bachelor’s degree or higher. Free, 29 pages. (314) 444-8444, pdf/CommunityColleges.pdf.