At the heart of the community college mission is providing access to an education that improves students’ lives and advances their economic mobility. During a time when the value of higher education is increasingly scrutinized, two-year colleges are proving their worth in a way that not even the stock market can match.
The average annual return for community college students’ investment in their education is 16.9%, compared to a 30-year average stock market return of 10.6%, according to a recent report commissioned by the American Association of Community Colleges. Translating this to earning potential shows the tremendous value in a community college education: Associate-degree holders earn, on average, $9,600 more annually than students with just a high school diploma. This difference equates to nearly $300,000 in additional earnings over a 30-year career.
Still, some new learners remain skeptical of the value of a college degree, disillusioned by the burden of student loan debt. For many returning learners, the idea of building their life around 16-week semesters for two years in pursuit of an associate degree is a barrier.
Today’s students want an even clearer, more rapid return on their investment. They need to feel the value of their investment more immediately, and they want the ability to discern well-defined on- and off-ramps to higher education.
One rung at a time
To deliver on this expectation, North Central Michigan College is leveraging stackable credentials — short-term offerings that can either stand on their own or build onto one another — in one of its marquee program areas: The nursing career ladder allows graduates to quickly earn the certification to begin an in-demand healthcare career while giving them the option to return to college for additional credentials when it makes sense for them personally and professionally.
Fast Track career programs: Each of North Central’s Fast Track programs results in valuable, industry-specific certifications designed to meet regional workforce demands and employer requirements. Fast Track programs are offered in a variety of healthcare concentrations, including medical assistant to patient care technician. Programs range in duration from four to 24 weeks and include externship placement and networking opportunities with employers.
Licensed practical nurse (LPN) program: Set to launch in January 2024, the college’s LPN program is a cohort-style, three-semester certificate program that will allow graduates to take the next step in their nursing education seamlessly, while filling a critical regional need for LPNs. While LPN certification is not a requirement for acceptance into North Central’s associate degree in nursing program, credits earned in the LPN program can apply to the completion of an associate degree.
Associate degree in nursing (ADN) program: North Central’s two-year associate of applied science in nursing program, which is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, is well-known for adding qualified nurses into the healthcare pipeline. The college’s 2021 nursing graduates notched an NCLEX-RN first-time pass rate of 91%, and the nursing program placement rate is nearly 92%. Small class sizes and dedicated support resources include free tutoring and an NCLEX success program to help ensure students’ success.
Bachelor of nursing degree program: A historic, bipartisan compromise included in Michigan’s 2023 budget will allow students in North Central’s ADN program to pursue a bachelor of nursing degree (BSN) concurrently from an accredited Michigan university. Under this legislation, Michigan community colleges and their university partners will receive $2 million over four years to administer an ADN-BSN program. This legislation represents career-defining progress for ADN students, who will no longer have to travel or disrupt their personal or professional lives in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree. It will also result in a more comprehensive level of patient care and a deeper talent pool for Michigan healthcare facilities.
Climbing up the ladder
Following each step on their career ladder, students will have a tangible result and a clear understanding that credential X led to job Y, which will ideally incentivize students to return to the college to complete another credential for the next step in their career. There is a win at each step — for the student, for the employer and for North Central’s regional economy. As students gain economic mobility, employers gain qualified employees, and the economy reaps the rewards of both.
While the community college value proposition remains undeniably strong, there are steps community colleges must take to meet students’ expectations of achieving real economic mobility in a shorter timeframe. Those steps just happen to double as rungs on North Central’s nursing career ladder.