According to O’Neil, “These so-called diploma mills were often underwritten by government-financed loans, and the diplomas they awarded had scant value in the workplace.” In many professions, they were no more valuable than a high school degree. What’s worse is that students are left buried under mountains of debt. According to data from federalreserve.gov, Americans collectively owe more than $1.3 trillion in student loans, and it’s debilitating our youth by starting their lives with an unrealistic burden causing stress, anxiety, depression, and even divorce.
In our defense, community college tuition is significantly less than tuition at for-profit institutions with students spending an average of $1974 for in-state tuition and fees. While our three-year graduation rate is only 12%, our success rate (defined to be the graduation rate plus the transfer out rate) is approximately 44%, according to U.S. News Education. An additional 15% of our students continue to be enrolled after three years and continue to work toward their degrees.
According to the U.S. Dept. of Education College Scorecard, 56% of students who attend GCC earned, on average, more than those with only a high school diploma. For the most part, our GCC graduates are finding jobs and making money. Nearly 84% of our graduates reported to be working and not attending school 6 years after enrollment with median earnings of $33,300 compared to a national average of $33,028.
In the book, O’Neil charges that for-profit colleges sell the promise of an education and a tantalizing glimpse of upward mobility while plunging students deeper into debt. While this may be partially true for for-profit colleges, I still believe in the value of the education that GCC provides. However, we should be aware of the influence of Big Data and resolve to limit its sway to what is best for our students.