Why State Legislators Should Fund Community Colleges

Community colleges serve a critical role in state economies, yet often struggle with government funding.

Anyone who works with community colleges is familiar with their strange boom and bust budget cycle. In general, enrollment rates are inversely proportionate to the strength of the economy. When the job market is good, students forego two-year degrees and professional certification to take a job. But, when the economy tanks, students go back to school for more training.

Unfortunately, the state response to community college budgets doesn’t take these considerations into account. As enrollment rates drop, so does state funding. And when enrollment rates rise again, the poor economy leaves state budgets with no room to spare for community colleges.

Obviously, these chronic funding struggles are bad news for community colleges—and their students. With fewer support resources available, students are more likely to leave their degrees unfinished, or take a longer time to complete them. And all too frequently, these low completion rates are used to justify further spending cuts.

However, by slashing community college funds, states are most likely undermining their own economic development. Here are five ways community colleges benefit the economy—and why they deserve more support from state governments.

1. Community colleges help students earn their high school diploma.

The earning potential of adults without high school qualifications is significantly lower than for those who have graduated. Accordingly, many students who might have struggled with education during their teenage years return to school as young adults to earn their General Equivalency Diploma (GED). While it’s possible for students to study for the GED on their own, most rely on guidance and instruction from educators.

Community colleges are one of the main resources for students earning their GED. In many cases, this diploma is the first step toward earning further professional certification or a college degree. Without funding for these programs, students have only limited options for further career training. State support of GED programs in community colleges increases the economic strength of those who achieve certification.

2. Community colleges provide training to fill the lack of trade jobs.

Regions across the country are facing a critical shortage of skilled trade jobs, such as electricians and plumbers. While these professions typically have excellent salaries, many workers have sought jobs in manufacturing instead, which promise an immediate wage but lack long-term prospects. This is a particularly significant concern for our nation’s hospitals and senior care centers, which face a nurse shortage that grows more urgent with each passing year.

While there are many potential students who could fill these spots, a large number lack the up-front resources to afford the cost of training. Government support can help make training more attainable to students, which will then help them transition into these much-needed and higher-paying professions.

3. Community colleges improve the earning potential of their students.

When students achieve higher career prospects, it’s not just better for the students—it’s good for the whole economy. Higher incomes for students with associate’s degrees or professional certification leads to greater financial stability for them and their families.

While university graduates are highly mobile—often attending university in one state, then moving a way and taking their economic potential with them—community college students tend to stay closer to home. Their education benefits the local economy, which feeds tax dollars back into the state.

4. Community colleges offer an affordable means to fill prerequisite and transfer credits.

Many students also struggle to afford the cost of four-year education at a university. Rather than increase their student debt burden, they turn to their community colleges as a more cost-effective way to earn prerequisites and explore degree options.

When students take this option, they complete their college education with fewer financial burdens. Without the bulk of their resources consumed by student loan payments, graduates are able to make more stable investments in their community, such as buying homes or starting businesses.

5. Community colleges serve as a flexible alternative to traditional post-secondary education.

Finally, many students turn to community colleges because they accommodate a wider range of life styles. Four-year universities expect students to be full-time, which can be prohibitively difficult for those with family obligations or who need to hold down jobs while also attending classes.

On the other hand, community colleges are designed to serve students with a broad range of educational needs. Whether a learner is switching careers, supporting a family, or attending night classes after a full-time job, the flexible course schedule provided by community colleges helps them achieve their educational goals.

We need to stop expecting community colleges to achieve more with less.

Clearly, community colleges fill a critical role in local economies. And yet, in many states, funding for community colleges hasn’t increased in over a decade. Even worse, state funding for community colleges has been cut, with many only receiving budget funding after K–12 education and four-year universities have had their needs met.

Considering the lack of funds, it’s no wonder schools have struggled to get by. Current spending on community college education is far lower than for universities even though community colleges overwhelmingly serve the underprivileged communities who would benefit most from education opportunities. Instead, the lack of funding means fewer resources available to help these students continue their education, which in turn results in lower completion rates, and ultimately a higher cost per certificate or diploma.

When policy makers view this trend as evidence that community colleges are failing their mission, it only exacerbates the problem. Funding should prioritize those institutions with the greatest need, and with the most promising prospects for advancing their communities. It is clear that, where post-secondary education is concerned, community colleges have the most potential to create a lasting, positive economic impact on their areas. It’s high time we gave them the resources to do so.

What Our Content Library Can Offer Small Community Colleges

Small community colleges benefit from shared access to vetted, researched articles.

With the rise in the economy, many community colleges are feeling the pinch as students who might once have enrolled in courses are returning to the workforce to take advantage of the burgeoning job market. For small community colleges, this can be a particularly challenging period, especially as many states have slashed budgets for community college funding with little sign of restoring it in the near future.

With reduced budgets, community colleges must look toward timely, cost-effective means of reaching their prospective students. And it is to help them achieve this goal that CareerFocus has created their content archive—a powerful resource that colleges can use to reach more students with crucial educational information. Here are the top four benefits small community colleges gain from accessing our content library.

1. Draw in more students through effective content marketing.

Content marketing is one of the most cost-effective marketing strategies available to educational institutions and other organizations. The principles are straightforward: prospective students need a lot of information about degree programs, cost of education, and student support in order to make a decision about their educational careers.

When students search for this information online, community colleges have an opportunity to use this point of contact to cultivate a relationship with them. As a trusted source of information on courses and career opportunities, students are more likely to enroll with that college. Meanwhile, colleges gain students with a better understanding of there employment prospects, and a more realistic idea of what it will take to finish their degree.

Of course, for this strategy to work, community colleges must first provide that information. That’s where the CareerFocus content library comes into play. Much of the information available on career opportunities is based on national employment data. We have compiled an archive of articles addressing these career concerns so that community colleges can share them as a resource without having to constantly reinvent the wheel. And when they do,

2. Relieve the time crunch in your marketing department.

For many small community colleges, the “marketing department” may consist of only one person. That lead marketer is already tasked with a wide range of duties, from maintaining the information on the community college website, to keeping brochures up to date, to organizing campus signage and managing press releases.

With so much on their plate, these marketing directors rarely have the time to sit down, research, write, and publish informative content about their career programs and the local job market. As much as they would like to spread the word, they’re limited by time constraints and the size of their team. Add in the busy seasons, and the increase pressure to meet deadlines, and most marketing directors have very little spare time to accomplish extra tasks.

As effective as content marketing is, writing and researching articles takes time. But, by accessing the content library, marketers can increase their output without adding an excessive time load. For overburdened marketing departments, this can revolutionize their capabilities. With a fully-loaded content marketing campaign at their fingertips, marketers can reach more students in less time, thus allowing them to devote more time to other priorities.

3. Make more of your marketing budget.

Small community colleges usually have to contend with limited budgets all round. When enrollment drops, the marketing budget is usually one of the first to feel the pinch. Unfortunately, this sets community colleges on a downward spiral. Without resources devoted to building enrollment in the coming year, budgets are likely to only grow tighter.

Our content library expands limited budgets in two ways. First, it helps your college achieve the widespread effects of a strategic content marketing strategy, but at a fraction of the cost. Because the articles in our catalog are available to community colleges nationwide, the burden of creating content from scratch is distributed across participating institutions.

4. Unify your message with other colleges to challenge public perception.

Finally, many prospective students carry a false impression of community colleges as second-best to four-year institutions. They hesitate to enroll, preferring to enter directly into the workforce rather than invest in a post-secondary education that doesn’t come from a more prestigious school.

These perceptions are unfortunate, especially as they undervalue the great benefits community colleges bring to their region. Without community colleges, many areas would lack training opportunities for nurses, electricians, mechanics, and other important trade professions. Furthermore, community colleges provide an affordable way for students to explore areas of interest before transferring to larger institutions. This opportunity has the potential to save some students thousands of dollars in student loan debt on their way toward achieving a bachelor’s degree.

As pernicious as these perceptions might be, however, community colleges face an uphill battle when they challenge them individually. On the other hand, by working together, large and small community colleges alike can present a cohesive story that challenges the negative light they’re often viewed in.

Shared content means shared resources.

The bottom line is that community colleges have a lot to gain by pooling resources. It is rare that two community colleges compete with each other for students, either because of geographic separation, a difference in course offerings, or through the sheer size of their local market.

Since they don’t compete, there’s no need to re-write an entire library of content articles from scratch—especially since all our articles can be fully customized to match local interests. Colleges can save their own resources while still presenting a researched, fully-polished, story that highlights the benefits of community college education while also providing students with the crucial job market information they’re looking for.

To learn more about how CareerFocus can help your community college grow, contact us today.

Does Your Community College Need Custom Content?

Community colleges need to sell their unique strengths while maintaining a unified message.

Over the past few years, a growing number of community colleges have benefited from using content marketing to grow their enrollment rate. These colleges recognize the value prospective learners find in practical, career-minded information about the real costs and benefits associated with a community college education.

CareerFocus has been part of this movement, supplying content to colleges and helping them distribute it, first through print, and then through digital means. We have seen how shared content has helped community colleges thrive through lower production costs, while also expanding their marketing reach and raising enrollment.

We have also heard the colleges we work with asking about the benefits of custom content, and questioning whether shared content is a viable strategy for community colleges. It’s an important question, and the short answer is that we believe there’s room for both. But when and how you used shared content, custom content, or a custom edit of pre-written content, is a question of strategy. Here’s our perspective.

The benefits of content sharing: presenting a consistent message.

A common struggle among many community colleges lies in challenging the many false impressions that exist about their role in higher education. Community colleges frequently face charges of being “second rate,” of being mere transition colleges, or of not being as focused on student success as vocational schools.

As anyone who works with community colleges knows, these assumptions are wildly off-base. Community colleges work directly with students to help them achieve success, both in the work force and in their continuing education. However, given the pervasive nature of these narratives, it can be difficult for community colleges individually to deliver a coherent response.

This is where content sharing delivers a strong repartee to combat the most pernicious of these attitudes. When community colleges come together to share a response to the charge of being expensive fallback options, they can change public perception to the benefit of all. Instead of each individual college spending resources to write a myriad of articles which all share the same substance, they can pool resources to distribute selections of the same content.

The benefits of customizing content: existing content, tailored to your needs.

That said, there are many cases in which shared content, left as-is, might create a disconnect between the college’s brand and its audience. It may be that a college offers a variation on a more standard course, or that they have developed a strong style in communication with their students.

Accordingly, we feel it is important to emphasize the extent to which articles can be edited to reflect the specialties of their college. For many marketers, starting with existing content and then editing to suit their needs isn’t just cost effective—it’s a huge time saver as well. Without having to research national statistics, colleges can build off the bones of a piece to create something that perfectly matches their subject and style.

Customizing existing content solves another common problem for community colleges: coming up with good content ideas. While it’s not the same as writer’s block, colleges frequently struggle with selecting subject matter for their articles. And, even when they’re writing the articles themselves, the final result may differ from what the team intended.

By using shared content, a marketing team can select articles that already meet most of their criteria, leaving the final tweaking to their department. The results are more aligned with the team’s vision, and help move the marketing forward at an efficient pace.

The benefits of original content: showcasing your inimitable value.

Finally, some community colleges have such refined specialties that their courses may bear little to no resemblance to other courses nationwide. If your program offers professional a special certification program, or an unusual degree course, you may want to consider creating original content to highlight these programs.

That isn’t the only kind of unique content you can create, however. Faculty interviews and student profiles can work together to showcase success stories and familiarize prospective students with department staff.

If your marketing department is low on time, this can even be an initiative you run with your college’s writing department. You can talk with teachers of the writing and composition courses about asking students to submit an article for the next CareerFocus issue that highlights a benefit or a unique advantage of your community college. This can be a rewarding experience for students, and a point of interest for those considering enrollment.

Community colleges don’t have to choose between shared and custom content.

As you can probably see for yourself, a single issue of CareerFocus can use any combination of the above. While two or three inside pieces may use whole articles un-edited, they can be supplemented by original interviews and feature segments. Meanwhile, the title article can be based off a pre-written piece, but with some of the paragraphs altered to focus more on the specific community college’s interests.

The bottom line is that colleges do not need to restrict themselves to only one approach or the other. By being strategic in their use of shared content and saving their resources for the custom content when they need it most, they make more of their marketing budgets—all while providing the valuable, informative content their learners need to make decisions about their education.

If you would like to learn more about how CareerFocus helps community colleges provide a united front in order to change public perception, we encourage you to read our whitepaper, Changing the Narrative: How Community Colleges Use Content Marketing to Transform Public Perception and Build Enrollment.

To learn more about how our content marketing campaigns can help your community college build enrollment, contact us directly.

Why Your Community College Needs a Website

Your website is a primary resource for information for your students.

The current generation of college-aged young adults has never known a world without the Internet. They know how to research purchases online and how to connect with classmates on social media, and many of them might have covered how to cite an online source in their high school English class.

For them, searching for information online isn’t just a skill, it’s an instinct. And they’re not just doing it from their computers—they’re doing it from their phones.

This makes it all the more critical for colleges to re-examine how they present their websites online. When a prospective student can spot a billboard or a local ad and instantly look online for more information, that information needs to be relevant and accessible.

Unfortunately, many community colleges are behind the game when it comes to presenting information about their university in a clear, navigable format. Colleges as institutions have always bee slow to change, and community colleges face additional constraints due to limited budgets and resources. Therefore, to make the most of their websites, community colleges need to think carefully about the information they present, and whether it aligns with what students most need to find.

It’s not just about having the information online—it’s about making it findable.

The biggest challenge most community colleges face as they organize their online content lies in determining which information is most important for their students. Not only that, they need that information to be organized in ways that are clear for their users, so that nothing gets lost in the shuffle. Top information that any good community college website must have in an easily searchable format includes:

Courses

Many students begin their online experience by looking up possible courses and reading descriptions to see what might spark their interest and fit into their schedule. A student passingly interested in a Culinary Arts program may become more interested once they start reading about the advanced pastry classes, while a graphic design student may be curious about a 3D modeling course. By making it easy for students to browse potential courses, community colleges clear the way for prospective learners to indulge their curiosity.

Career Programs

Satisfying curiosity is one thing, but most students decide to commit to a full course once they start reading about how it might affect their career prospects. Most community colleges only go so far as listing the required courses and theoretical timeline for a career program, without going into detail about the job market. Turning this section of your website into a source of information for career-minded students can help turn a casual browser into a committed student.

Tuition Costs

Another key deciding factor for students is the cost of tuition, as well as other related expenses such as course books, uniforms, or equipment. For students who enter a degree program in order to find a better job, their financial resources are likely to already be at a limit. While many community colleges are reticent about the full cost of attendance for fear of turning students away, students need this information if they are going to plan for the financial costs of their education.

Financial Aid

For colleges that are worried about deterring students with the cost of studies, putting financial aid information front and center can help. Many students who qualify for financial aid never apply because they aren’t aware of the programs available to assist them. Similarly, some students have mistaken preconceptions about who does or doesn’t qualify for financial aid, and may be disqualifying themselves before talking to a guidance counselor. By promoting the assistance programs your school offers, you encourage eligible students to step forward and apply.

Timetables

Community college students often attend classes part time while working one or two jobs on the side. Because of these varying schedules, knowing when classes are available is an important factor in their enrollment decision. Class timetables should be easy to access and scan, both for students considering enrollment options, and for those who have already enrolled and need a compiled list of their course schedule.

Library Resources

When students are struggling with a deadline or trying to complete an assignment in the spare hour between class and their second job, they need information about library resources on hand with minimal searching. That includes the library open hours, returns policies, information about special collections, and item availability listings.

Location

Students use their phones to navigate the real world as well as the Internet. That doesn’t just mean looking up the college address on their first day of class. They’re also likely to turn to the internet to find buildings on campus, the location of student services, or the closest parking to their next class. And while having a campus map is a great step, it should also be one that students can easily read on their smartphones.

Community colleges needs websites their visitors can—and want—to use.

Websites that are cleanly designed and logically organized aren’t just easier for students to use, they also welcome visitors to return. When students engage more with the content on a website, they’re more likely to have a positive experience, and the information they find can help them complete their course of study.

We understand that creating and managing websites can eat up a lot of valuable resources for community colleges, which is why we’ve designed the EditionBuilder portion of our services to help. Once you assemble the content you want to publish in your next edition of CareerFocus, it’s simple to publish that same content in a mini website that your prospective students can read and share. Contact us today to learn more about how our EditionBuilder can enhance your students’ online experience.

How Community Colleges Turn Programs into Careers

Community colleges equip students for employment through practical experience.

Learning for its own sake will always be an ideal, no matter the educational institution in question. But many students are also motivated by learning that can directly lead to careers. Rather than spend a lifetime academia exploring the outermost edge of a field, they want to put their skills to practical use.

This is an admirable goal, and one that community colleges are especially situated to serve. While community colleges offer a low-risk way for students to explore subjects of interest, they also direct learners toward paths that have high employment prospects. As a result, career-oriented individuals can enter the workforce or progress to other educational institutions with a hands-on level of knowledge that serves them well in real-life scenarios. Here are just a few of the ways community colleges make this happen.

Community college programs focus on highly-employable “skills gap” trades.

Throughout the country, many industries are suffering from what’s known as a “skills gap.” These trades, which include electricians, plumbers, and nurses, provide good incomes and high job stability, but are currently experiencing a shortage of qualified workers.

Community colleges know this, and therefore focus many of their programs on attracting students who might be good fits for these professions. Certifications or associates degrees in these skills can be accomplished in far less time—and at far less cost—than four-year university degrees, but are often overlooked.

By diverting resources toward promoting these programs, community colleges are able to train students in skills that will help them gain and retain employment for years to come.

Community colleges run work placement programs with local industries.

Many companies struggle to find qualified workers to fill their positions. Meanwhile, many people in communities all across the country suffer from unemployment or underemployment. Ideally, this latter group could fill the needs of the former, but they lack the skills necessary to do so.

Fortunately, many community colleges work with local industries to run work placement programs. These businesses donate equipment to the college, run internships, and recruit from the student body. Meanwhile, the community college can offer more secure employment prospects to students who complete the course given the connections with employers.

Community colleges place a priority on career counseling through the program.

Many universities take a step back from career counseling, allowing students the freedom to explore options and decide what they want for themselves. Unfortunately, at large institutions, this can come at a great cost to students. It’s wonderful to leave your degree course undecided for a couple years if you can afford it, but students who are eager to enter the workforce are often looking for a more direct course.

Community colleges are more used to working with this type of student, and can offer direct guidance, complete with the latest employment data, to students at every stage of their educational career. While students entering a four-year institution often spend more time worrying about receiving an acceptance letter than planning their career path, students at community colleges benefit from being able to talk through an entire two-year associate’s degree while they’re still in the decision phase.

Furthermore, once students have entered the community college system, they have increased access to counselors who can help them make decision that will improve their employment upon graduation. For job-oriented students, a job-oriented is the perfect match.

Community colleges support program changes and cross-disciplinary study.

That said, community colleges also provide a low-risk way for students to assess various course options before having to decide on a final option for themselves. They can dabble in humanities courses, language classes, biology, government, mathematics, car repair, and culinary arts, all at much lower expense than a university.

The broad exposure to multiple disciplines helps students approach their eventual course with more confidence, sure in the knowledge that they tried all their options. And while many universities offer general education credits for just such a reason, few of them offer credits in the trade skills that may be an exceptional match for a student, even if they display talent in other directions.

In short, students who take time to explore degree and career options at a community college not only feed their curiosity, they also save long-term on student loan costs.

Community colleges have smaller class sizes, leading to more personal direction.

Finally, community colleges are more likely to have intimate class settings, leading to closer bonds with teachers and fellow students. This pays off in many ways. From a student perspective, the close contact with classmates from all walks of life helps expand their experiences and connect with diverse groups of people.

Meanwhile, the more accessible nature of teachers at community colleges gives students extra motivation to pull ahead, and teachers can often provide students with personal help that they might not get from a professor at a large university setting. Both these experiences combine to form situations where students have support to continue their degree and succeed in their chosen career.

Community colleges know how important careers are to their students.

There’s a reason community colleges focus so much on careers, and it mostly boils down to their students. Community college students are mission-oriented: their goals are set in the very near future, and they want to get their quickly.

For the community as well, more qualified workers with the skills necessary to fill jobs and grow the economy are a huge asset. So, for community colleges, a focus on careers helps attract motivated students, fill local jobs, and create economic stability for regions that desperately need it.

CareerFocus helps community colleges draw attention to career programs through print publication, online micro sites, and digital marketing campaigns. If you would like to learn more about how our services can benefit your college, contact us today.