When it comes to education, location matters. Research out of the University of Illinois confirms people who live near public colleges enroll in them at higher rates, earn degrees, and have better economic mobility than those who don’t live in proximity to public higher education.
These outcomes are strongest among low-income students. It confirms that when people have access to education, they use it.
“On a wide range of economic and social-mobility indicators, we see that these regional public universities are affecting the people who grow up next to them,” Russell Weinstein, one of the study’s authors, told the Chronicle of Higher Education. “The people who grow up in a county with a regional public university, instead of one of these other private, smaller, more expensive universities, we see that they’re more likely to get a college degree and have all these other economic, social, and mobility effects.”
That’s great news for the communities that have regional public colleges, but how can we use this information? What can communities that don’t have regional public colleges do?
Free Online Community College Can Fill The Gap
Calbright is one approach. We’re part of the California Community Colleges system—a public institution—and our online format means that we can be everywhere. Because our programs are free, and because we offer free loaner devices for students who don’t have reliable internet and computer access, we can make education accessible to people in regions without local public colleges.
Will this have the same effect that having a physically present public college does? It’s too early to know for sure, because Calbright is still new. But there’s notable research suggesting that Calbrigth, and colleges like it, can have a positive impact.
There’s considerable research showing that low-cost community college programs are a great way to boost career prospects – even if you don’t get a degree. Study after study shows that public institutions offering inexpensive, fast, technical certificates support student economic mobility. And when you make college inexpensive, evidence shows that more people enroll.
But it’s not just costs that keep potential students from enrolling in community colleges. Many students—especially low-income and non-traditional students—need flexible class structures that cut through bureaucratic red tape. They need mentoring and support.
Calbright’s model combines all of that, offering free, flexibly paced, and highly connected online certificates in technical fields like IT, Salesforce administration, and Cybersecurity. We can’t be physically present, but we can fill in the gaps and make public community college accessible to everyone.
That can change lives.