Amid the widest recorded earnings gap between college graduates and everyone else, an alternative to costly four-year institutions exists for students, which may especially appeal to those undecided about their career — community college.

Two-year colleges offer students an opportunity to “sample or try on introductory career courses,” said Mike McCracken, a counselor for Victor Valley College, one of two High Desert CCs, along with Barstow Community College.

While many college graduates have floundered trying to find well-paying jobs in a recovering economy, few experts believe the solution is to send more students to four-year colleges, the Associated Press reports. In fact, since four in every 10 college students drop out before graduating, “often with debt loads they will struggle to repay without a degree,” labor economists suggest they might benefit more from obtaining skills.

“Over 99 percent of the job growth during the economic recovery has gone to workers with more than a high school diploma,” VVC Executive Vice President of Instruction and Student Services Peter Maphumulo said. “So, a college credential is now a minimum requirement for anyone who wants to earn a decent living.”

"When we started our educational system and we guaranteed a K through 12 education, that was enough, you could get a good job with a high school education," said Barstow Community College Superintendent/President Dr. Deborah DiThomas. "Not now."

Citing a report from Georgetown University Center on Education in Workforce, DiThomas noted that by 2020, 65 percent of all jobs will require some form of postsecondary education, compared to 28 percent in 1973.

“From these and all of the reports I’ve studied, it is more important now, than it ever was before, to go beyond a high school education and get technical training or a college degree,” DiThomas said. “In addition to all of the social and cultural opportunities a college education offers, the bottom line is that if young men and women want jobs and careers that will pay enough to provide for a family, they need to go to college.”

Skill-related education is the way of the future for students who are looking for “immediate college credentials in order to enter the job market,” Maphumulo said. He noted, however, that this is not for students who intend to transfer into bachelor’s and graduate programs.

“There certainly is a movement about the emergence of (Career Technical Education), but the overarching message is still that higher education leads to success, but now the strongest candidates for placement in the workforce will also demonstrate skilled training and/or experience as a supplement to their education achievement,” VVC spokesman Robert Sewell said.

“Some associate degrees are designed for transfer while others are geared toward skills leading to employment,” VVC counseling department chair Diane Wollan said.

The latter would include nursing, respiratory therapy and paramedic while other CTE programs include welding, auto and construction technologies and administration of justice.

Wollan claims that CCs offer many benefits aside from just being cheaper, including smaller class sizes, more direct contact to instructors, a diverse community which “puts students of any age at ease, even those who have dropped out and are returning years later,” and a comfortable transition from high school to the college environment.

Maphumulo noted that VVC partners with local high schools to establish pathways across five industry sector areas with its RAMP Up program, with participating schools aligning to regional curriculum.

“We can do a better job of making a case for the value proposition that community colleges have the best solution for lifting people out of poverty into middle class life than anyone else,” Maphumulo said.

BCC counselor/articulation officer Apineru J. Lealofi added that, in general, a college education “provides opportunity for upward mobility.”

“It provides many opportunities that give a person stronger means to support oneself and their family,” Lealofi said. “It also strengthens one’s confidence and critical thinking to allow one to succeed in any opportunity – academically, personally and professionally.”

Charity Lindsey may be contacted at 760-951-6245 or clindsey@vvdailypress.com. Follow her on Twitter @DP_Charity.