College is among the greatest ambitions and most significant milestones in the lives of many people. But the willingness to enroll is often not enough.
In this increasingly fast-changing and complex world, juggling studying and other responsibilities are becoming more challenging every year. Young people, especially those aspiring to become community college students, can find it just as hard to keep up with the fluctuating living costs as older adults.
For many, that means having to work while studying. However, that requires stellar time management, adequate schedules, consistent motivation, and considerate employers.
Sadly, business leaders don’t always have time to focus on their employees’ needs and hurdles. Yet, that’s necessary if they want a productive workforce and good results.
Employers must be more involved in the career paths of their employees, as well as in what they experience throughout their professional journeys and whether they need support. That often, if not in most cases, requires closer collaboration with educators and community colleges.
Working together would allow both parties to address multiple shared issues, including lower college enrollment rates. After all, employees who attend college are more likely to have the prior knowledge and skills that employers need.
Therefore, employers and educators must collaborate on solving the most common disadvantages students face. That could encourage them to choose the college experience and get their degrees.
How Do Young People Feel About Going To College?
Global events, culture, societal changes, and the economy significantly impact how each generation perceives higher education. Even though going to college has been more or less the norm in the past decade, Millennials questioned the value of that path, and Gen Z took it to another level.
According to Guardian, only 65 percent of under-16s believed it’s important to go to university in 2019, compared with 86 percent in 2013. More recent studies and reports found that the situation could be even direr today.
For instance, 53 percent of people aged 16-25 fear for their future and worsening job prospects. One of the reasons for their concerns is that higher education doesn’t equip them with enough skills necessary for the workplace.
Many students also say that education has worsened during the pandemic, making them pessimistic and hopeless. Another survey found that although college affordability is among the principal reasons would-be students aren’t choosing this path, it’s not a monolith.
Young people are often conflicted about pursuing college due to dissatisfaction with their current life situation and fear they don’t have what it takes to overcome the challenges and tasks that studying encompasses.
Therefore, they don’t have as positive a perception of the college experience as their predecessors did. Instead, people tend to question its value and purpose, as well as their circumstances and capabilities.
One of the ways to encourage them to choose to go to college is to remove the obstacles students, especially from diverse groups, face and provide full support. That way, young people will be less fearful about whether they can afford this path and more confident that studying is still valuable and important.
The 3 Most Common Adversities Community College Students Encounter
- Transferring From Community Colleges To 4-Year Universities
Community college students have for decades faced long processes and hurdles if they want to transfer to 4-year universities. Even though many wish to do that, 60 percent never succeed in that intention.
Students face undeniably formidable obstacles, which is why they stay in community colleges or quit higher education altogether. However, the situation has become more severe during the pandemic, especially for minority groups.
According to the Inside Higher Ed report, Black students already disproportionately attend community college and have faced much higher food and housing insecurity rates during the pandemic. That has made it more difficult for them to attend college, causing enrollment rates to drop.
But Black students also have the lowest transfer rates of any racial or ethnic group at community colleges, another problem that worsened after the COVID-19 crisis. They are also less likely to graduate or get a degree within three years.
Community college leaders and educators disregard that these students are more likely to have lower or poverty-level incomes and be parents. As a result, they can’t complete their college journey timely and encounter multiple hurdles throughout that time.
Yet, some community colleges steer these students into certificate programs, which makes transfers to 4-year universities almost impossible. However, despite likely having it more challenging than others, they are not the only ones.
Women also face a more difficult road when transferring than men. But again, Black and Latino women’s transfer rates are lower than among their white counterparts.
In general, community college students encounter challenging transfer processes due to the confusion surrounding transfer credits, untransferable credits, and lack of guidance and precise information. The system is difficult to navigate, especially for students who get little help, as an adviser’s support is necessary for this process.
- Lack Of Work-College-Life Balance
According to The Intersection of Work and Learning report from 2020, 85 percent of community college students had one job, while 15 percent had at least two jobs. However, part-time students are more likely to work more than 40 hours per week.
Older students (aged 30-49) work more hours than their younger counterparts and may have additional responsibilities, such as childcare or taking care of aging family members. However, age plays no role in how difficult it is to complete all required courses, as every working student struggles with this issue.
For example, at least 17 percent of new community college students are absent from class at least once during the first three weeks of the semester due to work-related obligations. They all encounter scheduling issues, as most colleges have no flexible arrangements.
Besides, these students must also juggle tuition expenses, other college fees, transportation costs, housing, and food costs. This is another problem that the pandemic exacerbated, as many working students lost their income.
But despite having to work while studying, they care equally about their college responsibilities. They wish more procedures and initiatives that make it easier for them to commit to both could exist.
Sadly, not many community colleges acknowledge the time their students spend at work, even though they could recognize it with relevant credits. Moreover, working students would benefit from flexible schedules or not having to attend all courses physically.
Since that’s not the case in most community colleges, students struggle with their work-college-life balance, which often leads to poor grades, lack of productivity, burnout, anxiety, and depression. As a result, some find themselves forced to quit college, believing it’s not worth the cost and stress.
- Inadequate Skills And Preparedness For Workforce
Community colleges have always been perceived as the safest path to middle-skills jobs and the knowledge and abilities necessary to find positions that guarantee a decent living. However, young people are no longer confident that choosing that direction would help them acquire relevant technical and soft skills.
After all, the middle-skills gap has been present for years, making it challenging for local businesses to find graduates with the competencies they need. According to the Partnership Imperative report, employers believe that community college students often lack skills and knowledge matching their business needs and bottlenecks.
They said that new graduates are not workforce-ready, which causes them to invest less in collaboration with community colleges. Students often feel the same, believing that these higher ed institutions don’t equip them with what it takes to be competitive in the job market.
Even though community colleges have improved their tech-oriented courses drastically in the past years, there’s still room for more effort and relevant courses. Educators must design programs that align with the middle-skills market demand and local business requirements. Nevertheless, that’s not a one-sided task, and both employers and community colleges must work on tackling it.
Mitigating The Obstacles Would Attract More Young People To Community Colleges
Students, including those from community colleges, are stressed out and struggling with many adversities, from having to work while studying to not acquiring relevant skills and capabilities. That is more than enough to push them into thinking that college might not be the best choice in today’s economic climate.
If would-be students are convinced there are more cons to college than pros, many will decide it’s not worth the risk and try to enter the workforce immediately. Hearing negative experiences from community college students could reinforce their decision and lead to lower enrollment rates.
On the other hand, taking action in the opposite direction and tackling the most common disadvantages and difficulties these students face would make this path more attractive and worth pursuing. Because of that, community college leaders and educators must unite with employers and re-establish their partnership.
They have the means and tools to remove or mitigate the obstacles community college students encounter. A strong and consistent collaboration between these two parties could result in renewed trust in higher education and a better college experience for future graduates.