Teachers College, Columbia University

Economic Returns to Community College

Economic Returns to Community College

On average, community college students earn significantly more over their lifetimes than individuals who do not go to community college. Many studies have shown higher earnings for community college awards.

But the exact amount varies. It depends on what subject is studied; if the student transfers to a four-year college; if the labor market is strong; and, most importantly, if the student completes community college.

Based on large-scale studies from six states, the average student who completes an associate degree at a community college will earn $5,400 more each working year than a student who drops out of community college. This estimate adjusts for factors such as the subject studied, college attended, and college GPA.

Vocational certificates can serve two functions for community college students: They can increase earnings directly, and they can help students get jobs.

Most research finds that having a certificate is associated with higher earnings; the effect is especially strong for certificates in health fields. In addition, certificates increase the probability that the person is employed and that the job is in an industry related to their skills.

Tuition and fees at community colleges are approximately $3,770 per year of full-time study. By comparison, a student who completes an associate degree will earn on average $5,400 more than a dropout each year. This gap appears within eight years of first enrollment. In short, the earnings gains are large compared with the fees.

Plus, there are many other benefits of attending college besides having higher earnings.

CCRC data viz

CCRC's data visualizations offer an interactive way to explore trends in community college outcomes.

View all CCRC #dataviz blog posts