BACK TO SCHOOL
Community college a vital source of vocational training
By Ven Griva
Copley News Service
Perhaps the best way to find the training you need to start climbing the career ladder toward a better-paying job - a job offering paid vacations and medical benefits for you and your family - is to visit your local community college.
Not only do the more than 1,600 public and private community colleges in the United States offer students a low-cost opportunity to earn an associate's degree and provide a springboard toward a bachelor's degree at a four-year college, they also offer certification programs in fields as diverse as nursing, law enforcement, firefighting, construction, Web site design and other high-tech skills.
Most graduates can reap the rewards of this training in two years or less. The average expected lifetime earnings for a graduate with an associate degree are $1.6 million, about $400,000 more than a high school graduate earns, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.
"Community colleges are vital partners in educating and preparing workers for good jobs in their local area," said Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao.
Globalization is driving changes in the U.S. economy, and the need for an educated work force has never been greater, says the U.S. Department of Labor Web site (www.dol.gov). The majority of new jobs that will be created by 2014 will require some post-secondary education or vocational training.
Community colleges offer degree and certification programs tailored to fit the schedules of working people, often offering evening and weekend classes. What's more, many degree and certification programs can be taken completely online.
If cost is a consideration, rest assured. Almost all community colleges have on-campus financial aid counselors. They are trained to help students find state and federal scholarships, grants and loans.
Some facts about U.S. community colleges:
- Across the United States there are 1,655 community colleges. Of these, 1,047 are public institutions and 415 private.
- In 1999-2000, 62 percent of public community colleges had an open admissions policy, compared to 7.5 percent of public four-year colleges.
- Nearly 60 percent of new nurses and the majority of other new health-care workers are educated at community colleges.
- Ninety-five percent of businesses and organizations that employ community college graduates recommend community college work force education and training programs.
- Close to 80 percent of firefighters, law enforcement officers and emergency medical technicians are credentialed at community colleges.
- Students at 41 percent of public community colleges can earn a degree entirely online and 92 percent of all institutions offer at least one Internet-based course.
- In 2000-01 the states with the largest number of public community colleges were California, Texas, North Carolina, Illinois and New York.
Another low-cost option for employment training - especially if you have been recently laid off or the industry that currently employs you is shrinking - is through the Department of Labor's nationwide system of public-employment service centers.
While the names of the many services centers may be different - employment services, employment security commission, job service, one-stop center or work force development center, for example - their mission is the same: to assist job seekers in finding jobs and employers in finding qualified workers and, in some areas, to provide job training and related services.
Veterans receive priority referral to jobs and training as well as special employment services and assistance. In addition, the system provides specialized attention and service to the disabled, migrant and seasonal farmworkers, youth, minorities and older workers.
Qualified applicants are provided job training and training in basic skills. You can find more information about federal job training programs through the Workforce Investment Act online at www.careeronestop.org.
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