Paralegal associate’s degrees are valuable credentials, but community colleges should be clear in how they market them.
Many community college programs can lead to well-paying jobs with only a two-year degree. However, of the many options available to community college students, paralegal programs can be both rewarding and complicated to navigate. While good program can lead to a fulfilling career, there are also many programs that do not live up to the standards commonly required by the legal profession.
As a result, paralegal degrees—and especially A.A. degrees—can be viewed with skepticism by employers and prospective students alike. This, combined with legal cultures that are steeped in hierarchy which can cause many students to write off a paralegal associate’s degree before they’ve fully researched their options.
Community colleges hoping to increase program enrollment therefore have two important marketing challenges to overcome. First, they must adequately set student expectations with regard to their intended degree. Painting a rosy picture of career prospects may mislead students, and may even cause the community college to be more strongly associated with less credible institutions. Second, community colleges should distance themselves from poor degree programs by marketing their own qualifications. Below are our recommendations for how community college marketers can tackle both these angles in their marketing.
What can students expect from a paralegal associate’s degree?
Many prospective students may have heard of a paralegal degree, but may be uninformed about what it entails or what opportunities it opens up. Providing background information is critical for helping them envision their lives as paralegal students. The following are a details community colleges should share with students.
1. Paralegal work is detail oriented and requires good writing skills.
Paralegals assist lawyers with research and are often responsible for drafting documents, communicating with clients, obtaining affidavits and other formal statements, scheduling, and project management. In other words, they are like a super assistant, possessing top-notch organizational skills while also handling office management. They also must have an appreciation for the law, especially the its finer points. While paralegals cannot represent clients, negotiate fees, or give legal opinions, their legal sensibilities must be strong enough to navigate the ins and outs of legal settings.
2. Both the projected growth rate and the median salary for paralegals is above average.
In 2020, the median salary for paralegals and legal assistants in the U.S. was $52,920, with jobs in that sector expected to grow by 12% between 2020 and 2030. Both these figures are significantly higher than the national average, and represent some of the highest paid and fastest growing jobs with only an associate’s degree as an entry requirement.
3. A paralegal associate’s degree is valuable for employers outside the legal profession as well.
While a paralegal associate’s degree has obvious value in law offices, it offers employment opportunities in other sectors as well. Many businesses, including banks and insurance companies, find value in an employee with a legal background. Even if that employee cannot provide legal counsel, they can help them navigate the legal world more effectively.
4. Paralegals can specialize in specific areas of law, but they can also change focus more freely.
There are many areas of specialization for paralegals, including criminal law, family law, real estate law, and intellectual property law. Specializations in technology are also increasingly valued. However, because paralegals are often required to fill many roles within an office, it’s also possible to switch specializations if another area takes their interest.
5. Previous work experience is prized, especially for those considering paralegal as a second career.
The average age of a paralegal student is 36–38 years old. In other words, many of these students are coming into the profession having already gained experience in another career. Often this background—especially if it is in business or a profession that is closely linked to the law—is the reason behind their interest in a paralegal career. In this case, it may be viewed more as a continuation of their current career path rather than a complete shift.
What details should community colleges advertise?
As we said earlier, while paralegal degrees can offer students the chance at a fulfilling career, it’s also all too easy for students to be misled. The following are key details that community colleges should advertise in order to help prospective students make a choice that will serve them well long-term.
1. Is their school ABA approved?
Many programs across the country advertise paralegal degrees, but only a few hundred are approved by the American Bar Association. Given the skepticism with which A.A. degrees are sometimes viewed, it’s safe to say that any program that isn’t ABA approved is only doing its students a disservice. On the other hand, if you do have ABA approval, marketing your program as such is a significant marker of trust.
2. Do they have strong connections with the local legal community?
It’s common to hear lawyers, especially those in large cities, argue that an A.A. degree will not help a student gain employment at a large law firm—and they certainly have the professional experience to know. But lawyers aren’t just for big cities, and the situation in rural areas is very different. If your community college runs a paralegal program, you should have a better understanding of the local legal community.
3. Do they have a transfer pathway for students who want to earn a B.A.?
Many students enter an associate’s degree paralegal program as a test-run before trying for a bachelor’s degree, especially if it can save them thousands of dollars in tuition. However, transfer pathways are not always easy to negotiate, and it can be disheartening for a student to find out after the fact that their courses won’t transfer to their chosen program. Your community college should be up-front about the education pathways available to students who enroll.
4. What is their placement rate for graduates?
Given the demand for paralegals on the job market, it should be taken for granted that a reputable program can help graduates find a job. It is therefore a significant red flag if a program can’t offer reliable statistics about the placement rate for their graduates. Your school should be able to provide this information to students so that they know whether your program will help them find the employment they seek.
5. Do they have an internship or practicum program?
Community colleges with strong links to the local legal community often have programs to help their students get reliable experience in the field before they graduate. If your program has such a partnership with the local legal community, this is an important item to advertise. If your school doesn’t, it may be worthwhile developing such a program in order to attract more students.
Community colleges can more effectively market their paralegal programs to students if they provide the research and set expectations accordingly.
At Aperture, we have years of experience demonstrating that forthright, honest communication focusing on career opportunities is effective in helping community colleges increase program enrollment across the board. This is even more important with paralegal degrees, where information can be both positively and negatively misleading, depending on the source. It is up to community colleges to lay out the situation in their area, and to help their students make the most informed decision.
As a content marketing business specializing in postsecondary education, we can help your college make that information available. With a library of researched, fact-based content written specifically for community colleges, we can help you make the case for your programs across all platforms, including online microsites, social media posts, and print mailers. Contact us today to get started.