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Community College Is Best Bet for Most Students

This country's obsession with college is almost always associated with a four-year degree.  That does a terrible disservice to students who lack the aptitude or interest in going that route ("Wanted: Factory Workers, Degree Required," The New York Times, Jan. 30).  I made this point in a letter to the editor in The New York Times ("College Success, for All," Jan. 29).

A far more realistic strategy is attending a community college.  According to the National Skills Coalition, 54 percent of the labor market consists of jobs requiring middle skills. These are best acquired through a combination of apprenticeships and two-years of classroom learning. Forty percent of these jobs pay more than $55,000 a year, while some 14 percent pay more than $80,000.  By comparison, the median salary for young adults with a bachelor's degree is $50,000.

But high school counselors persist in selling a four-year degree to virtually all their charges.  It's here that Japan is a possible model, as I wrote in The Japan Times ("Vocational universities may be the way forward,"Jan. 29). If we're going to continue pushing a four-year degree, then maybe it's time to establish a new type of four-year vocational university.

Purists will argue that such institutions are little more than trade schools, rather than places for academics.  But times are rapidly changing.  It's disheartening to see students go into heavy debt to major in fields having little transfer to the workplace.  The fact is that young people have bills to pay.  That's why I urge high school students to consider community college.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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