Many Great Post-Secondary Options Available

As the 2014-2015 school year comes to a close, most graduating seniors who intend to enter college in the fall have made their choices. A large number, however, still have not. No worries. The good news is that they and their parents have plenty of good, low-cost options for post-secondary education available to them.

“We tend to be the safety net or holding pattern for students who haven’t figured out that next step,” said Matthew Crawford, dean of enrollment and marketing at Normandale Community College in Bloomington.

Normandale is one of 36 junior colleges in Minnesota that offer two-year programs leading toward associate’s degrees. Some are private schools, but most, called community colleges, are public. Many students enrolled in two-year courses intend at some point to transfer to four-year institutions. Indeed, during the 2013-2014 school year, 661 students transferred from Normandale to the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities campus. Four-year institutions generally accept credits earned at two-year colleges, but changing one’s major could make additional course work necessary to fulfill degree requirements.

The economics of community college appeal to many students, most of whom hold part-time jobs while pursuing associate’s degrees. At Normandale, tuition for 30 credits, a full academic load, costs roughly $6,000. By contrast, tuition at the University of Minnesota for a full year comes to about $14,000. Statewide, four-year private college annual tuition averages more than $35,000. When students ultimately earn their bachelor’s degree, Crawford pointed out, their “diploma says University of Minnesota, with no asterisk saying that they went to Normandale for two years.”

Students attending Hennepin Technical College, with campuses in Brooklyn Park and Eden Prairie, have more than 50 programs of training to choose from. According to Mike McGee, academic dean, “96 percent of our graduates get jobs within six months of graduation, and in some fields 100 percent do. Our graduates are in high demand because they have tangible skills to offer.”

Nursing and related medical or dental occupations, along with information technology and law enforcement, are among the most popular training programs. Beginning wages for graduates range from $16 to $24 per hour, with overall costs to earn the associate’s degree approximately $12,000.

“We have a lot of students who already have a four-year degree,” McGee said. “They come to our college to acquire skills that the marketplace needs.” There is a “stigma associated with skilled technical occupations, that they’re the Four D’s — dirty, dark, dangerous, and dead-end,” added McGee. “Those conclusions couldn’t be further from the truth. Our challenge is to convince parents and students of the great opportunities for careers in technical fields.”

Both McGee and Crawford acknowledge that by not providing the residential life experience of traditional four-year colleges, their schools won’t appeal to everyone. But given the high and growing costs of earning a bachelor’s degree, as well as the uncertainty of employment for those who obtain one, their schools offer students a practical option — and a bargain to boot.