If you have a high schooler at home, you’re probably starting to think about what comes next after graduation.
According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data, nearly 70 percent of 2018 high school grads went on to pursue higher education at a college or university.
While some students can’t wait to leave home and pursue a degree at a traditional four-year university, many are choosing to stay at home and work toward a technical certificate or two-year associate’s degree.
Benefits of Two-Year College
Students are opting for two-year colleges for a number of reasons. America’s student loan debt has climbed to $1.49 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and many students don’t want to carry the debt that often comes with a four-year degree. Tuition is significantly cheaper at two-year schools, while still providing a quality education to students.
According to CollegeBoard.com, the average tuition at a public two-year college for an in-state student is around $3,400 a year, compared to $9,400 a year for a public four-year college (not including room and board). Tuition at a private four-year college runs around $32,400 a year.
Community colleges also have easier enrollment and offer flexible programs, so they’re accommodating to all types of learners.
“Students in the area can stay close by, maybe hold on to their part-time job and still live at home while paying low tuition,” explains Tracy Shook, director of marketing and communications at Lakeland Community College.
One of the biggest benefits of a two-year college is that it puts students on a fast track to beginning their career. Students can earn a certificate within a few months or an associate’s degree within two years, putting them in the workforce in half the time of a traditional university.
Local community colleges and technical schools are reporting steady enrollment with a high concentration in health care, information technology (IT), and business programs.
“With the number of health care institutions in the region, our health programs are always some of the most popular,” Shook says. “The business areas, such as accounting, entrepreneurship and management, have also been popular. One newer area with increased market demand is cybersecurity. Lakeland has just implemented curriculum under the Information Technology and Computer Science department to include that field.”
Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) is seeing interest in similar programs.
“Health careers are always at the top of the list,” says Karen Miller, provost at Cuyahoga Community College. “Nursing and a variety of other health care programs are probably in the most demand. IT is also in demand right now. Coding is a big opportunity. They can do a 16-week program and move into really good paying jobs.”
As our everyday equipment gets “smarter,” the need for skilled technicians to maintain the technology is in high demand.
At Remington College’s Cleveland Campus, traditional trade programs such as facility maintenance and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) repair are popular among students who want to get to work quickly and have job security.
“These programs are fairly quick so you can get into your field, and the programs that we have are a necessity that a lot of people need,” explains Terhan Freeman, director of campus administration at Remington College. “If you look at HVAC, it’s in every single building and home, so that’s not going away anytime soon.”
Freeman adds that health programs such as medical assisting, physical therapy assistant, dental assistant and medical office administration also are popular programs. The college also recently added a restaurant hospitality and retail management program.
According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the unemployment rate for “people with some college or an associate degree” was 3.5 percent in 2018.
Nanci Coleman, career placement specialist at Tri-C’s Career Center, says they work with an abundance of employers who are ready to hire.
“The field we place the students the most quickly is in IT,” Coleman says. “We have a lot of demand for IT students. We also have a high demand for business students, particularly the accounting students during tax season.”
She adds that they help place many students in internship programs, which allows both the student and the employer to see if it’s a good fit.
“A lot of students will seek out an internship before they graduate and then stay on with that company after they graduate and are hired on permanently,” Coleman adds. “So it’s a win-win for everybody.”
Depending on the career path, students who obtain a certificate or associate’s degree can expect a starting salary of $35,000-$50,000, according to Coleman.
Is There a Need for These Jobs?
Among the top 20 fastest growing occupations in America, solar panel installers, wind turbine technicians, home health aides, physical therapy assistants and medical assistants round out the list and only require a certificate or associate’s degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook.
In Ohio, health care employers dominate, with seven out of the top 10 employers in the state coming from that sector. The Cleveland Clinic is the state’s largest employer, with 50,829 employees, according to the Ohio Development Services Agency’s 2019 Major Employers Report.
One way colleges are trying to attract students is by allowing them to begin classes while still in high school.
Most community colleges in the region, such as Lakeland Community College, Lorain County Community College, and Cuyahoga Community College, offer College Credit Plus programs that allow high school students to enroll in college level classes and earn college credits that also can be put toward their high school graduation requirements. This allows students to see what programs are available and get a jump start on their career.
Building a Foundation
Not only does a certificate or two-year degree allow you to begin working in your career field, it also serves as an educational building block if you decide to advance your degree.
“Because of the commitment we have at the state level to make sure that all public institutions use the same curriculum and have the same learning outcomes, we make sure that everything we do here can transfer,” Miller explains. “It’s a great place to start and save money and get the first two years of a four-year degree here.”
Many two-year colleges have partnerships with four-year universities, to make it easier for students to transfer the credits they earn if they decide to pursue a bachelor’s degree.
“In fact, many students pursuing a four-year degree start at Lakeland to complete general education classes that would cost them much more per credit hour at a four-year college or university,” explains Shook. “They then can transfer those credits to a four-year college. ”
Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018 Data
Here is a sample of careers you can obtain with a certificate or associate’s degree
JOB / MEDIAN PAY / PROJECTED JOB GROWTH BETWEEN 2016-26
Solar Panel Installer, $42,000, projected to grow 105 percent
Wind Turbine Technician, $54,000, projected to grow 96 percent
Physical Therapist Assistant, $48,000, projected to grow 30 percent
Medical Assistant, $33,000, projected to grow 29 percent
Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides, $57,000, projected to grow 28 percent
Respiratory Therapist, $60,000, projected to grow 23 percent
Dental Hygienist, $74,000, projected to grow 20 percent
Dental Assistant, $38,000, projected to grow 19 percent
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, $67,000, projected to grow 17 percent
HVAC Technician, $47,000, projected to grow 15 percent
Web Developer, $69,000, projected to grow 15 percent
Medical Records and Health Information Technicians, $40,000, projected to grow 13 percent
Radiation Therapist, $82,000, projected to grow 13 percent
Radiologic and MRI Technologists, $61,000, projected to grow 13 percent
Surgical Technologists, $47,000,projected to grow 12 percent
Computer Support Specialists, $53,000, projected to grow 11 percent
Civil Engineering Technicians, $52,000, projected to grow 9 percent
Food Service Manager, $54,000, projected to grow 9 percent
Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technicians, $67,000, projected to grow 7 percent
Drafter, $55,000, projected to grow 7 percent
Electrical and Electronics Engineering Technicians, $64,000, projected to grow 2 percent