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Finding the Best Institution for Adult Students

Finding the Best Institution for Adult Students
For adults looking to start a new career or advance in their current positions, trade schools or community colleges may be a better option than expensive four-year universities.

Are community colleges and trade schools becoming better suited, if not best suited, to serve the adult learner? I write based on my experience and research and I can say I have heard many negative things over the years about community colleges; popular opinion seems to say these institutions are second-rate schools offering second-rate curricula and degrees.

I don’t know if that was ever true, but having worked for two community colleges in recent years, I would have to say I do not agree with this view. I also wonder why the trend in high schools is to discourage graduates from pursuing careers in the trades and redirect them to focus on a college education.

Community colleges are rapidly becoming better suited in this market to serve the adult learner for the following reasons:

1. Affordability

They are usually more economically affordable than four-year institutions.

2. Relevant Programming

Most community colleges only offer associate’s degrees. However, through research on hiring trends and labor market needs, companies seem to be hiring more graduates with associate’s degrees versus those with bachelor degrees. [1]

3. Convenience

With the higher demand by adult learners for school, but being limited to colleges in their communities due to family and work obligations, community colleges have stepped up to the proverbial plate and revised their curriculum and degree offerings to be comparable, and even sometimes better than, that of larger colleges and universities.

4. Local Focus

Community colleges are a bit different from what they used to be. One of the schools at which I used to be employed, though having facilities all over the United States, would be considered a community college. However, despite the larger institution’s national reach, the colleges still mainly serve the community in which it resides and offer degrees pertinent to that location. Community colleges offer degrees that are in demand in their community. Bottom line: adult learners typically do not plan to earn a credential higher than an associate’s degree, and typically do not plan to move to another locale. However, to further their current careers with their current employer, what could be better than an economical, local college with a good educational reputation?

Trade schools, if not best suited for the adult learner, are vital to our economy in that they train electricians, plumbers, mechanics, carpenters and other critical laborers. Like community colleges, trade schools are generally more affordable than four-year colleges/universities. In this day and age — where many college graduates are unable to find jobs and are defaulting on their school loans as a result — those graduating from trade schools are usually without debt.

Given the nature of the subject matter, trade schools mainly train the younger adult learner and traditional-aged students. This is significant, since our nation is currently experiencing a serious deficit in tradesmen and women who are younger than 45 to 50. However, adults in their 30s and 40s can still make a career transition into the trades fairly easily, and the flexibility of scheduling is very much like that of a community college or adult-learning program, where the adult can remain working because classes are usually only one night a week with some online work.

Additionally, many trade schools are offering associate’s degrees to complement the training these students receive. Often, tradesmen and women become business owners, which is usually very good for the community’s economy. However, even if they don’t choose to operate their own businesses, these men and women often become “teachers of future tradesmen and women” and, from my experience, they are some of the best teachers I have come across. Trade schools lead adults to earn fairly high salaries from the beginning of their careers and they are usually much more satisfied with their careers.

So, are they “best suited” — I am absolutely convinced and sure some are; maybe even most — but as with everything, you must choose the best option based on your career plans and goals.

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[1] Jon Marcus, “Community college grads out-earn bachelor’s degree holders,” CNN Money, February 2, 2013. Accessed at

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