In his recent commentary in Carolina Journal, political analyst John Hood cautions North Carolinians not to overlook the value of local community colleges. Hood writes:

Many political and education leaders in North Carolina say that our economy would be better off if our level of educational attainment was higher. They’re probably right about that, as long as their definition of “educational attainment” is sufficiently broad.

Quoting recent Census data, Hood explains:

[A]bout 30 percent of North Carolinians aged 25 and over have bachelor’s or graduate degrees. That’s up from 23 percent in 2000. Another nine percent or so have two-year associate degrees, up from seven percent in 2000… [and] some 22 percent attended college for a while but never finished their programs. If state policymakers are worried about insufficient attainment, the experience of this “some college” population deserves closer scrutiny.

While there are many factors in a person’s decision to end an educational program prematurely, Hood writes that community colleges, as opposed to four-year universities, are better equipped to mitigate those factors. Hood writes:

Of those 22 percent of North Carolina adults who consumed some higher education but don’t possess a degree, a significant percentage started out at a four-year institution when they should have gone to community college, instead. It would have cost less, they might well have been more successful by staying closer to home, and if they had completed associate degrees, they might well have been better off than if they’d completed B.A. or B.S. degrees.

Hood backs up his last assertion with some research:

While on average those with at least bachelor’s degrees have higher lifetime earnings than those without them, the difference is largely attributable to undergraduate and graduate degrees in business and STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math). Lifetime incomes for those with bachelor’s degrees in liberal arts and humanities are not significantly higher than for those with associate degrees.

For these reasons, Hood urges North Carolinians not to overlook the “great potential of proximate, affordable community colleges.”

Read the full story here. Learn more about education in North Carolina here.