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posted: 5/12/2014 2:22 PM

How community colleges help the economy

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When considering an investment opportunity, the first consideration of a prospective investor is the expected return.

Investors would not willingly hand over their money to someone offering high risk and low returns.

But imagine the demand from investors if they could expect astronomically high returns -- say, 25 times the original investment -- with little risk? How many would not leap at the opportunity?

At America's community colleges, new research indicates our communities not only can hope for such returns on their investments in higher education, but should expect them.

Recently, the American Association of Community Colleges reported for every $1 invested in America's community college system, $25.90 will rebound to the U.S. economy during the working lives of those community college students. Overall, the AACC report, "Where Value Meets Values: The Economic Impact of Community Colleges," indicated the country should expect to reap a value of $1.1 trillion in added income over the working lives of students enrolled in community colleges in 2012 alone.

That economic boost, however, is not limited to just some faraway phenomenon, but is felt close to home, as well.

Later this year, Northern Illinois University's Center for Governmental Studies, working in partnership with the Illinois Community College Board, expects to release reports offering a look at the economic benefits Waubonsee Community College and our sister institutions in the Illinois community college system bring to our regions.

When NIU and the ICCB last released such reports, the results were striking.

The benefits begin with the emphasis placed by Waubonsee and other community colleges on education and skill training, boosting the employability of area workers.

In the previous study, one out of five employers in the Waubonsee district reported having hired a Waubonsee student or alumnus. And 86 percent of those employers told the surveyors they had hired an Illinois community college student.

Those jobs, in turn, generated benefits for workers, as well. The survey revealed those who studied at Waubonsee earned approximately 23-39 percent more on average versus their earnings about a decade earlier.

For the community, these educated, skilled workers earning more, in turn, translates into a cascade of more efficient and productive workplaces and millions of dollars reinvested in the local economy.

The future will undoubtedly bring new challenges, seen and yet unforeseen, both to America's higher education system and to our economy overall.

With the support of our communities, we believe data, past and present, demonstrate America's community colleges stand ready to meet those challenges and lead the way forward to a richer and more prosperous future for us all.

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