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College Is Still (Very) Worth It – When It’s Accessible

The spiraling cost of college and the high drop out rates at many institutions have led to an ongoing debate: is college worth it? 

Most recently, an editorial in The Wall Street Journal argued that “Americans have lost faith in the value of college.” Scott Carlson fired back in The Chronicle of Higher Education arguing that while colleges can be reformed, a college education is still a huge benefit to those who complete it.

College Has Real Career Benefits – But Can Carry Big Risks

Going by the numbers, Carlson is right. Report after report shows that a college education leads to a significant career boost, including higher salaries, and that colleges—especially community colleges—are drivers of economic mobility. The evidence is clear.

The problem is that college is an easy decision for people who have the resources to reach it easily – and a massive risk, a huge gamble, for people who don’t. 

Even worse are the millions of people who would take that gamble if they could, but simply can’t. Many of them are kept out by the cost of college, but that’s not the only factor: many more simply can’t attend a traditional college, even if it’s free, because of their work schedules, their family responsibilities, transportation issues, or a lack of support.

The issue with college, in other words, isn’t that it doesn’t work – it absolutely does provide economic mobility and improved outcomes. The problem is that college isn’t accessible to those who need it most, and too big a risk for millions more.

Free, Flexible, Online Community College Is A Model That Works For Adult Students

When adults are given a low-or-no-risk option to go to college—when they are given a college option that works for the lives they actually lead, instead of assuming that they have 2-4 years to put their studies first—they take it. Calbright’s proven it.

During a period when college enrollment was in steep decline, and then only intermittently coming back, Calbright achieved significant enrollment increases – our enrollment has increased over 500% since 2021. Those students are more diverse than those at conventional colleges, and they stick around longer: Calbright has significantly higher persistence rates than comparable colleges.

Over and over again, these adult students tell us that Calbright’s model of fast, free, career focused, Competency-Based Education brings them here. When we take the risk out of college (since there’s no student debt) and make a system that fits with their lives, they’ll show up.

Online Community College Education Has Real Career Benefits

Best of all, when non-traditional students sign up for a program like Calbright’s, and go through it, they experience the career benefits of a college education. Alumni surveys show that not only were the vast majority of Calbright alumni satisfied with their studies at Calbright (in some surveys, 100% of alumni were), but over half report that Calbright’s curriculum had a positive impact on their employment by the time they filled out the survey – with almost a third saying they had improved their careers within just three months of completing their program. Students like Jimmy, David, and Alana.

Some students, like Alicia, Williams, and Hector, even got better jobs or raises while they were still in their classes.   

Put it all together and the answer to the question “is college worth it” becomes clear – it is definitely worth it, when it’s accessible. 

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