By the Courier Staff
In yet another apparent lack of understanding, President Donald Trump implied he does not understand the purpose and role community colleges play across the nation. His remarks were given during a speech on infrastructure March 29 in Richfield, Ohio to construction apprentices. Instead, the president advocated for the revitalization of vocational schools.
“A word that you don’t hear much, but when I was growing up, we had what was called vocational schools,” Trump said. “They weren’t called community colleges because I don’t know what that means – a community college. To me, it means a two-year college.”
Despite the president’s dismissive words, it is the opinion of the The Courier’s editors that community colleges are an important pillar in the American educational system and the vital role they play is not one to be dismissed.
More than 40 percent of the country’s undergraduate students are currently enrolled in community colleges, according to College Board, a higher-education research firm and test administrator. Roughly 9 million undergraduates were enrolled in community colleges in the 2015-2016 school year, according to The Atlantic.
Historically, the vocational schools were offered at the secondary level and seen as an alternative to a college degree, according to The Atlantic. They are designed to prepare students for careers in industries such as manufacturing. Community colleges took a broader approach, giving students skills that might apply across various industries.
COST OF COLLEGE
Community colleges are important to Americans because they serve as a pathway to the middle class for low-income, first-generation and other minority students.
The affordability of community colleges is a key aspect of their importance. Without them, many would not be able to afford the high cost of education at a four-year institution.
Tuition alone for an undergraduate, state resident taking 15 credit hours at the University of North Texas is over $4,200 per semester, according to unt.edu. A similar course load at Brookhaven College costs $885 for in-county students and $1,665 for out-of-county students. Add mandatory fees, books and supplies, housing, food, transportation and other personal costs, and tuition at UNT skyrockets to over $25,000 per semester.
Community colleges aim to serve the communities around them. They offer educational opportunities to a large percentage of students who would otherwise have difficulty obtaining a postsecondary education due to life’s circumstances. These include parents, full-time workers and others who have to support their families or individuals who decide to change career paths later in life.
The easy accessibility of community colleges is the open door that so many people need to become college graduates, and we cannot lose that.
In addition to core curriculum courses, Dallas County Community College District campuses offer courses in continuing education, English for speakers of other languages and GED certification. High school students have the opportunity to earn college credit or degrees through programs geared to them including dual credit courses, Early College High Schools and collegiate academies. Some schools, such as Brookhaven, also offer course selections designed exclusively for veterans.
The fastest-growing jobs in the U.S. require candidates to have training and education beyond high school, and community colleges, which typically offer associate degrees, will be key to filling those openings, according to The Atlantic.
However, the importance of vocational schools cannot be taken for granted either.
After years of pushing bachelor’s degrees, the U.S. needs more skilled workers. More than half of tradespeople in skilled trades were over 45 in 2012, according to Emsi, an economic-modeling company. Looming retirements will likely cause a shortage in these fields in the coming years.
Vocational schools serve an important role in the nation because tradespeople are needed to man the industries that keep the country afloat. Tradespeople require specialized skills that may only be offered at vocational schools.
According to the National Skills Coalition, 53 percent of all jobs in 2015 were middle-skilled. These jobs require an education beyond high school, but not a four-year degree. Job openings for middle-skilled jobs is projected to remain at 48 percent between 2014-2024.
A PLACE FOR BOTH
However, the problem is not just a lack of understanding by Trump, but that he brushed off one form of education for another.
To phase out community colleges would mean to eliminate the institutions that have given millions of Americans the practical skills, liberal arts background and diploma considered prerequisites for a growing number of jobs, according to The Atlantic.
If the American educational system is to thrive, then people should have options from which to choose. Only with these options can we truly have the opportunity to chase the American Dream.