Dr. Scott Alsobrooks is the president of East Mississippi Community College.

April 3, 2019

According to a report by researchers at Georgetown University titled “Three Educational Pathways to Good Jobs,” an estimated 16 million “middle skills jobs” that require more than a high school education but less than a four-year degree will be available in the U.S. in coming years.

What that means is that earning a four-year degree is no longer the only pathway to a career that pays good wages. Not that we would ever discourage anyone from seeking a four-year degree. Preparing students to transfer to a four-year college or university is, and always will be, part of our core mission at EMCC.

But it is a fact that students who complete our certificate and associate degree programs and segue directly into the workforce at times earn more than their counterparts with advanced degrees. That was not always the case.

Prior to World War II, typically, an education at a university was reserved for an elite few. Unable to afford a university education during the pre-war economy, the bulk of the U.S. population instead went to work, often at a young age after dropping out of school. Many worked at factories or in skilled trades, while those in rural America predominantly labored on farms.

According to Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, 72 percent of the middle class in 1950 was comprised of high school dropouts. By 1980, that number had dropped to 40 percent and is still declining.

Ignited initially by the G.I. Bill, university attendance exploded from fewer than 2 million students to more than 11 million in a couple of decades. In 1965, the Lyndon Johnson administration introduced the Higher Education Act to increase access to higher education, primarily through grant and loan opportunities. College was no longer reserved for the upper class. And with that, a new belief was woven into the U.S. social structure: the only way to achieve the American Dream was to attend a four-year college or university.

While access to a higher education has since grown by leaps so has student debt. According to recent reports, Americans owe more than $1.5 trillion in student loan debt, surpassing total credit card debt by $521 billion! According to some estimates, more than 44 million Americans are paying an average of $393 per month to satisfy the debt payment. Staggering numbers!

The good news is that community colleges like EMCC offer a low-cost education alternative that can provide training that leads to long-term financial stability.

By providing the training needed to meet a rising demand for middle skills jobs, community colleges can provide students a pathway to success and contribute to the overall health of our local and national economies.

 East Mississippi Community College President Dr. Scott Alsobrooks