Community Colleges for Healthcare Careers

by Dr. John Erwin, Illinois Central College

We often hear tales of students, particularly in the health professions, who choose other colleges over Illinois Central College in spite of the cost differential. ICC’s annual tuition for a full-time student is a little more than $2,500 a year. Research on why students choose one college over another is mixed: some say their choices are program-based, others say size and location, still others say it’s cost. But in the end, the story always ends with a statement like, “Now the student has $30,000 (or more) in loans to repay.”

ICC, like other community colleges, has long offered an affordable alternative to college. In fact, students choose ICC for two main reasons: cost and quality programs. When you consider cost alone, it’s unimaginable that anyone would choose to attend a school other than a community college!

This issue of iBi focuses on health and medicine. We were asked to talk about health careers in this column and how ICC contributes. I think we can safely say that without community colleges, healthcare providers would be, well, unhealthy.

Consider this: According to the American Association of Community Colleges, “59 percent of new nurses and the majority of other new healthcare workers are educated at community colleges.” What they don’t say is, “at a fraction of the cost of proprietary and other schools.” This is an incredible economic benefit—not only to the student, but to the local economy as well. Let me tell you the story of one of our student nurses. We’ll call her Sally.

Although she wanted to “go away” to school, Sally’s mother and father insisted that she complete her registered nurse education at ICC. ICC’s program is a two-year associate degree that can transfer into a bachelor’s program. Reluctantly, Sally complied. Two years later, she received a $5,000 “signing bonus” with a local hospital. After serving out her employment obligation, she and her husband moved out of state, where she again was immediately hired.

Sally works weekend, 12-hour shifts, and makes about $70,000 a year. Her hospital is paying for her to complete her bachelor’s degree and will also pay for her master’s degree. While Sally’s friends who attended other schools—some private, some proprietary, some state—complain about the excessive loans they have to repay (they were told their education was “fully funded”) and the cost of their education, Sally had no debt when she graduated. She started her career two years earlier than her counterparts and does not have the expense of earning her bachelor’s degree.

Now let’s consider what Sally’s decision brought to the local economy. First of all, Sally’s early entry into the workforce meant she was a viable consumer two years earlier than most college students. She was earning money, spending money and paying taxes much sooner than her high school friends who chose other schools. Because she had no loans to repay, she had a greater disposable income to infuse into the economy. While banks didn’t make money on her from student loans, they also didn’t face the concern for default on loans—and probably more than compensated with house, car and other loans.

ICC’s nursing program is just one example of how choosing a community college for healthcare careers education makes economic sense for both the student and the community. ICC offers a variety of healthcare programs, including nursing, respiratory therapy, clinical lab technician, medical transcriptionist and more.

Today, more than ever, prospective students and their families need to consider the financial implications of their college decisions. Community colleges like ICC offer a high-quality, low-cost option for career and technical training, as well as the first two years of bachelor’s programs. We can’t help people who don’t take the time to understand what their college costs are going to be, but for those who have learned to choose responsibly, ICC offers an excellent economic alternative for both the students and the communities in which they work and live. iBi

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