Will the Great Career Shift Impact Community College Enrollment?
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Will the Great Career Shift Impact Community College Enrollment?

Across the country, workers are rethinking their careers and considering new options. Community colleges will be fundamental for their retraining.

At the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, few could have predicted how the crisis would shape the American workforce. It was clear the impact would be widespread, and it seemed obvious as well that it would result in a permanent shift toward remote work for many employees, or at least a hybrid working environment that allowed for more work from home.

However, the pandemic seems to have had an even more significant impact on workers in essential industries, many of whom bore the brunt of Covid’s impact in the early days. Many of these workers are now demanding higher wages—and succeeding.

Another class of workers are those who experienced greater economic uncertainty due to forced time off. For them, the weeks without work combined with financial aid through stimulus and unemployment payments have prompted a reevaluation of their career options.

All three of these groups—white collar remote workers, essential industry workers, and those who spent months of the pandemic without work or with reduced hours—are rethinking the kind of work environment they want post-pandemic. According to Forbes, 48% of Americans are rethinking their jobs. As they do, the need for further education looms large.

Community colleges are one of the only viable providers of that education for many of these workers, but that reality may not be apparent to the workers themselves. It is up to community colleges to make the case for their education programs. Here’s how.

1. The skills gap is still a major concern, and worker retraining could fix that.

In the coming years, as the baby boomer generation leaves the workforce, hundreds of thousands of trade, technical, and manufacturing jobs will need to be filled, yet not enough workers are available to fill them. Even the move toward factory automation cannot make up the difference, as many jobs are not suitable for automation. Moreover, advances in automation are opening doors to new jobs—again, without the skilled workers to fill them.

Many of these jobs offer good salaries and benefits, along with working conditions that are vastly improved over the dirty and dangerous environments many of us envision. Workers who took steps toward retraining now would be setting themselves up for a stable career path in an essential industry.

Retrained workers won’t be enough to handle all the demands of the field. Current high school graduates should also consider work in these fields, especially as these jobs do not require an expensive four-year degree. In both cases, community colleges should promote skills gap programs by sharing reliable information about the career prospects these jobs provide.

2. Few workers want—or can afford—returning to a four-year university for a new degree.

Attending college comes with significant expenses beyond just the cost of tuition. Room and board are often as expensive at universities as the baseline tuition, and that doesn’t factor in the time commitments of a four-year degree that make it harder for students to hold down a job while also taking classes.

For students fresh out of high school, these concerns are pressing but not a deal breaker. But for a worker who has already spent several years in the workforce, who has bills to pay and maybe even a family to feed, taking four years off work to go back to school isn’t a practical option.

3. Community colleges offer the most reliable path toward a new career.

Workers who can’t afford to take an extended break from the workforce need a more viable option than a four-year university. Community colleges can provide certification or two-year programs that can be completed remotely, in the evening, or on weekends. Some of these programs can be completed within a few months, allowing workers to reenter the workforce faster. This makes the value proposition for community college clear:

  • Two-year degrees are more practical for students who have work, family, and financial obligations to meet.
  • Many workers who already have some form of degree can transfer credits or test out of some of their community college requirements.
  • Certification and stackable degree programs offer flexible options for those who can’t take significant time off work.

4. The best way to attract students is still through no-nonsense, fact-based messaging.

Given all these factors, community colleges should be a clear path forward for many prospective students. However, many colleges still struggle with a competing, contradictory, and negative preconceptions about their education.

For some students, community colleges are perceived as too expensive—less so than four-year institutions, but still more than what they can afford without taking out student loans. Economically challenged students are more debt-averse than students with more financial means, yet these same students are less likely to be aware of the financial aid available to them.

On the other end of the spectrum, students who might more easily afford community college may have the perception of it being less prestigious, and this is especially true for anyone who has already spent time in the workforce, or who may have graduated already with a 4-year degree in another field. They may not recognize it as the most expedient path toward a new career, and may look toward for-profit colleges or private courses first, unaware of the breadth and depth of training available to them through an accredited two-year institution.

Prospective students need clear and uncomplicated messaging about the value community colleges can provide, the kinds of courses and certificates that are available, and what will be required of them to complete a course.

Contact us for help with an informative, multi-channel marketing strategy.

As the pandemic wanes, there are still significant uncertainties about how many workers will follow new career paths, how many will require new training to make the transition, and how many will seek that training at community colleges. What is certain is that community colleges have a lot to offer these potential students—if only they can reach them.

At Aperture Content Marketing, we offer multichannel marketing tools that can help you reach prospective students with the kind of grounded, honest information they need to make educated decisions about their learning needs. If you’d like to learn more about our services, contact us today.

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