The Value of a Community College Credential in Washington State

When looking at the economic value of education, researchers tend to look at the impact of a high school diploma or a bachelor’s degree. On average, a person with an undergraduate degree earns $1 million more in lifetime wages than a person with only a high school diploma. The economic return on investment for community and technical college students receives little attention in this discussion. Recently more in-depth research has been undertaken by the Community College Research Center to determine the economic value Washington State community and technical colleges provide their students.

A longitudinal study was conducted to see how outcomes in community college impact future earnings for the multiple pathways offered in community colleges. The study compared earnings and employment data for Washington State community college students from their initial time of enrollment in 2001-02 to seven years after first enrolling in school. The study tracks students’ employment status, hourly wages, and total earnings to determine the average financial benefit earned by community college students who attain a short-term certificate (less than one year to complete), long-term certificate (a year or more to complete), or an associate’s degree. These outcomes were compared to a baseline of students who attended community college, but didn’t attain a short- or long-term certificate or an associate’s degree.

The researchers found that by completing an associate degree or long-term certificate, a student’s likelihood of employment and earning are positively impacted. Female graduates experienced more significant benefits from long-term certificates and associate degrees than their male counterparts. In contrast, short-term certificates were found to have no impact on the likelihood of employment or hours worked. Within a given credential level (associate degree, short/long-term certificate) there is significant variation in earnings and likelihood of employment resulting from the different fields of study.

The entire report can be found here.

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