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Community college a path to a better job

Enrollment for higher education in New Mexico continues to decline. The most recent enrollment numbers from the New Mexico Higher Education Department show a decrease from 144,294 students in 2014 to 133,830 in 2016. These numbers have college and university officials scrambling to bring enrollment up but point to a larger educational challenge. Some students and families don’t realize that a certificate or degree from a college is more important now than ever before to secure higher-paying jobs and ensure jobs come to, and stay in, our state.

This enrollment decline comes at a time when more companies are hiring individuals with post-secondary credentials like certificates and two-year degrees. Some students lament the cost of education and don’t see the value of continuing because of the rigor of study or life’s challenges. This makes college seem out of reach. However, community colleges offer many scholarships in addition to federal and state aid to make college more attainable.

Let me clear up some misconceptions. This is not the “junior college” of yesteryear with mostly developmental classes serving students who didn’t get admitted to a university. There is a misunderstanding of what types of programs are available.

So, why attend community college?

The real reason students should seek two-year degrees and certificates is to increase their opportunities for higher-paying jobs and careers. Increasingly, higher education degrees and certificates are the minimum credential for companies doing the hiring.

A human resources professional from the private sector recently told me that her corporation decided to offer employment to candidates for specific positions who completed a college education. Asked why, she told me it was the easiest way to improve the quality of their workforce. One might argue experience and other factors should be considered when hiring a new employee, but this corporation values higher education as the starting point for entry into higher paying jobs.

So, what does that mean to a student? Give us two years, stay focused on studies, graduate on time and earn a credential with an average worth of $31,000 upon entry into a job, according to the College Score Card from the U.S. Department of Education.

Some graduates earn more, some earn less, but regardless of the career path they are on, it is a path to a better-paying career.

Community colleges such as Doña Ana Community College are rigorous. They offer science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs on the cutting-edge of technology and education innovation such as virtual reality, cyber security, coding for apps and more. They help students overcome barriers and move efficiently through their educational journey. Community colleges also offer programs such as welding, dental hygiene, nursing, creative media technology, water technology and others that support New Mexico’s business needs.

For those wishing to complete studies at a university after completing high school, one can choose a 2-plus-2 degree program to continue their studies, save money and transfer seamlessly from a community college into a four-year university. In some cases, such as the Aggie Pathway, when you complete a prescribed set of courses with a good GPA, New Mexico State University guarantees admission. On the Pathway there is help via learning communities, tutors and peer mentors to improve chances of succeeding and moving on to NMSU.

So, whether you have been out of high school for one or many years or are graduating this spring, it is a smart choice to continue at a community college and prepare for a career or transfer to a university.

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